The Supreme Court also made it clear that it was the Irish Parliament's job, by way of legislation, to define the circumstances in which this would apply.
Our gutless politicians over the years failed to do so. Since women could go to Britain for an
abortion there was no pressure to do anything, and no need to sully our reputation as the island of saints and scholars with anything as mucky as abortion legislation.
So nothing happened. Successive governments dodged the issue. And the current government is only tacking it because the European Court has told Ireland to do so, not because of the more recent Savita case.
Because there is no proposal to change the "substantial risk to the life of the mother" condition for an abortion, there will be no increase in the miniscule number of abortions here on physical medical grounds.
But the same test could allow abortion if it is established that a pregnant woman could be suicidal if she is denied a request for a termination. Clearly a possibility of suicide constitutes a "substantial risk to the life of the mother."
What this means is that the extreme pro-life lobby that forced the amendment into the Constitution in the 1980s that gave equal right to life for both mother and fetus may now get exactly the opposite of what they were aiming for.
It was the Supreme Court's interpretation of the amendment that produced the "substantial risk to the life of the mother" condition for legal abortion.
So the big question here now, the one that is leading to feverish lobbying by the pro-life groups, is how you define when a woman is suicidal.
What emerged over the past two weeks was that the Minister for Health James Reilly was proposing that a woman making a request would be examined by three medical consultants (senior doctors), one of who would be a psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with pregnant women.
The three would make a decision, and that decision would then be reviewed subsequently by a second panel of three doctors. There would be an appeal system built into the process which could mean that a second group of six doctors would be involved.
This means that a woman requesting an abortion might have to satisfy up to 12 doctors/psychiatrists before she would be given permission.
This was so ludicrous it seemed almost comical, like some kind of grotesque bad joke. It would be funny were it not such a serious matter. People here shook their heads, muttering, “Only in Ireland!”
The organization of psychiatrists in Ireland immediately pointed out that there were only three psychiatrists in the whole country who specialize in caring for pregnant women. They also said that their members did not want to be the country's "social police."
The president of the organization even went so far as to say that forcing vulnerable women to undergo mandatory psychiatric assessments by up to 12 people was "abusive."
The government is now trying to row back and says that "only" six doctors would be involved. But the whole thing is a farce.
It is also completely unrealistic. The vast majority of women who want to have abortions, whether suicidal or not, will prefer to go to Britain rather than be grilled by doctors here. So the number of women seeking terminations on the grounds of potential suicide will be extremely low.
Many Irish women who want to have an abortion because of a developing physical medical condition -- like cancer -- now go to Britain and have the termination there before coming home again for treatment for their condition. This is one reason why the number of terminations for physical medical reasons here is low.
Since there is no change being proposed to the "substantial risk" test, that situation is unlikely to change in the future.
So the island of saints and scholars will be able to go on claiming that there is little or no abortion in Ireland, even when we introduce new legislation to "allow" abortion here. If the ludicrous proposals now being suggested become law, we will still have almost no abortion either for physical or mental reasons.
The government is promising legislation before the summer, although given the reaction to its proposals that may be wishful thinking.
This shambles is the result of the government's desperate attempts to do the absolute minimum on abortion, despite their promises to sort out the situation. Saving their own political skins is all they are concerned about, not the plight of Irish women who are caught in our hypocritical mess.
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