Irelands government unveiled a long-awaited bill Wednesday that lays down new rules governing when life-saving abortions can be performed,a point of potentially lethal confusion for women in a country that outlaws terminations.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny,speaking to reporters after his government published the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill,said he hoped the coming weeks of debate would not turn bitter. But he warned Catholic conservatives within his own party to back the bill or be expelled.
I do hope that we can bring everybody with us,on an issue that I know is sensitive, said Kenny,who said his government was seeking only a clarification of rights within existing law. He said the bill would set a maximum 14-year prison sentence for anyone involved in an illegal abortion. The Irish government took action following the death of a woman last year from blood poisoning after she was refused a termination because her dying foetus still had a heartbeat.
The government took action after Savita Halappanavar,died in an Irish hospital in October last year. Halappanavar,who was 17 weeks pregnant,died from blood poisoning one week after being admitted at the start of a miscarriage. As her condition worsened,doctors rejected pleas to abort the fetus because its heart was still beating. Subsequent investigations determined that by the time the foetus died,it was too late to save the woman.
Anti-abortion activists oppose the bills provisions for women who threaten to kill themselves if they are denied a termination. The bill specifies that three doctors the womans obstetrician and two psychologists must determine that the suicide risk is substantial.
Most other life-saving abortion cases would require certification by two doctors,or just one in emergencies requiring an immediate decision. The bill,published after weeks of government infighting on its terms,faces lengthy debate and likely amendments. Kenny wants it passed by July.
An estimated 4,000 Irish women travel annually for abortions to England due to Irelands abortion laws.