The Solicitor - The FindLaw UK Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

New law in Ireland clarifies position on abortion

The Irish Government has enacted a new law to help to clarify the circumstances when abortion is permitted within the law, reports the BBC.

Ireland is a strongly Roman Catholic country that has long held strict laws on abortion, which previously was only permitted in circumstances when the life of the mother was in grave danger.

Unlike in the UK, in Ireland the foetus has a right to life that equals the right to life of the mother.

However, the death of 31-year-old dentist Savita Halappanavar in October 2012 in Galway led to an international outcry, as doctors had denied her request for an abortion whilst she was in the process of miscarrying.

The decision to deny Ms Halappanavar an abortion proved to be tragically misguided, as she later developed a septicaemia that claimed her life.

The tragedy led for calls for Ireland's abortion laws to be reviewed, with doctors claiming that the legal position on abortion in Ireland was far from clear, and that decision-making for doctors was extremely difficult.

Now the Irish Government has passed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, which came into force yesterday on 1 January 2014.

The new Act clarifies that an abortion is permitted when the life of the mother is in danger. It states that the abortion must be approved by two medical professionals, one an obstetrician and the other a specialist in the field of the relevant condition.

The Act states that a single clinician may make the diagnosis and perform the abortion in a medical emergency. Where the risk to the mother's life is from suicide, the Act states that three physicians must concur.

Despite being hailed as a major advancement in Irish law, Mara Clarke, a director of a London-based support network that funds abortions for Irish women said that the law would only benefit a very small number of women.

"Only a very, very small percentage of women who need abortions will be able to access them in Ireland," she said.