Irish lawmakers voted early Friday to back the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, the first departure from Ireland’s outright ban on abortion. The new law allows abortions when a pregnant woman is at risk of committing suicide.
Parliament’s 127-31 vote came after a nearly two-day debate. The bill was created in response to a case last year involving a miscarrying woman who died from blood poisoning after being refused an abortion. It has been two decades since the Irish Supreme Court recommended that life-saving abortions, such as those to prevent suicides, be made legal.
Support for the bill came from left-wingers in the Labour Party. Prime Minister Enda Kenny expelled five lawmakers from Fine Gael’s parliamentary group for voting against the bill. Kenny said the members could not seek reelection as Fine Gael candidates.
The most significant debate occurred over the bill’s provision to allow an abortion if a woman is at risk of committing suicide. In order for a woman to qualify as being in this state, two psychiatrists and an obstetrician must rule that the risk of suicide is “real and substantial.” However, pro-life advocates worry that the rule will be exploited and that the new bill is merely a step toward more liberal abortion laws.
The end of the bill emphasizes protection of the fetus: “It shall be an offense to intentionally destroy unborn human life.”
Abortion supporters like the Human Rights Watch believe the bill did not go far enough in reform for reproductive rights for women.
“The new law does add clarity, but requiring women to seek multiple approvals from health professionals may delay or defeat access to legal abortions,” Gauri van Gulik, women’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch, said. “Ultimately it does little to improve the draconian restrictions on abortions.”