In an historic move, the Irish government has agreed to introduce new legislation allowing abortions to be carried out in Ireland within the terms of the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case.
That ruling called for allowing abortion when the life of the mother was in danger and the risk can only be relieved by terminating the pregnancy.
The government will bring forward a vote in the New Year but already there is strong opposition.
The four Catholic Archbishops released a strong statement saying that they wanted a free vote on the issue without the government whip being applied and they encouraged “all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right."
The archbishops stated:“public representatives must consider the profound moral questions that arise” in relation to the decision “by the Government to legislate for abortion."
While the government has a massive majority, it is believed there are up to 20 Fine Gael TDs who have mixed views on whether to vote yes. That could make the final vote very tight.
Current abortion law was enacted in 1861 and applies a blanket ban.
The government statement added: “The legislation should provide the clarity and certainty in relation to the process of deciding when a termination of pregnancy is permissible, that is where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the woman and this risk can only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy.”
So twenty years after the Irish Supreme Court ruling establishing a woman's right to abortion when her life is at risk, Ireland's government will now finally introduce a new law to clarify the situation.
According to CNN, the long postponed decision was made in a lengthy Irish Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, and it follows in the wake of controversy over the death of Savita Halappanavar from blood poisoning after a termination was refused to her in a County Galway hospital seven weeks ago.
The government is reportedly acting on the findings of an expert group on abortion, commissioned after a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in 2010. It is likely to be several months before the proposed legislation is finalized, however.
Health Minister Dr. James Reilly said that he was aware of the strength of feeling around the issue of abortion in Ireland, but he reminded the public that the government has a duty to ensure the safety of pregnant women in Ireland.
The death of Halappanavar, an Indian-born dentist who had moved to Ireland, prompted outrage in Ireland and led to an international outcry.
Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said his wife was advised that her unborn baby would probably die. In extreme pain, she asked for an abortion but was reportedly told that Ireland is a Catholic country and that an abortion could not be provided while the fetus was still alive, a decision that was at odds with the Supreme Court's ruling on the threat to the mother's life 20 years earlier.
Three days after her request for a termination, the fetus died and was removed. Four days later, on October 28, Savita Halappanavar died, prompting international headlines and calls for government action.
Inquiries have been set up by Irish authorities into the circumstances surrounding Savita's death, including one by the Irish Health Service Executive, but none has yet reported back.
The Minister concluded: 'Today the Government has decided the form of action to be taken. We will not preempt the debate that must follow by speculating on details to be decided later in the process.'
'However, the Government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. We must fulfill our duty of care towards them. For that purpose, we will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman’s life. We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child.'