Bishops criticise Irish government abortion move

Savita Halappanavar
Image caption Savita Halappanavar's family said she asked several times for an abortion before she died.

The Irish government has announced it will legislate for abortion in circumstances where the mother's life is at risk.

The move comes seven weeks after the death of Savita Halappanavar.

The four Catholic Archbishops of Ireland, including Cardinal Sean Brady, have criticised the decision.

Abortion is currently illegal in the Republic except where there is a real and substantial risk to a mother's life, as distinct from her health.

However, up until now the government has not enacted legislation to give certainty to doctors as to when terminations can be carried out and under what circumstances.

The Irish government said the new legislative framework will require a combination of legislation and regulations in cases where the life of a woman is at risk.

The move follows the report of an expert group set up to advise on how to bring legal clarity to the issue.

The new package of measures will comply with the government's obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights.

In a statement, the Republic of Ireland's health minister said he was "very conscious of the sensitivities" around the issue.

"I know that most people have personal views on this matter. However, the government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened," said minister James Reilly.

"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."

Image caption Enda Kenny's coalition government said the new legislative framework will require a combination of legislation and regulations

In a joint statement, the Irish bishops said: "If what is being proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed.

"It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances."

The recent expert group report followed a 20-year-old judgement from Ireland's Supreme Court, in an action known as the X Case, that termination in life-threatening circumstances, including a risk of suicide, can be lawful.

The issue of abortion is both politically and socially divisive in the Republic.

In recent weeks there have been three debates in the Irish parliament on the issue, following the publication of the expert group's report and the death of Mrs Halappanavar.

The 31-year-old, who was 17 weeks pregnant, died at University Hospital Galway following a miscarriage.

Her family claims she had requested an abortion but her requests were repeatedly refused.

The high-profile case is now being investigated by health authorities.

The Republic of Ireland has voted on abortion issues in several referendums.

In 1983, the mother and unborn child's equal right to life were supported and since 1992 women have had the right to travel outside the state for a termination and the right to information on abortion.

In 2002, a proposal to remove suicide as grounds for abortion as set out in the X case was rejected by the electorate.

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