Seanad Approves Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, Legislation Fails to Expand Access to Safe and Legal Abortion
(PRESS RELEASE) After a week of deliberations, the Irish Seanad (Senate) passed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 Tuesday night in a 39 to 14 vote. The bill now goes to Ireland President Michael D. Higgins’s desk for his signature. The abortion legislation is designed to provide doctors and individuals clarity about the circumstances under which a woman whose life is at risk may legally end a pregnancy.
While the Center for Reproductive Rights appreciates the step that the Irish government is taking to clarify the circumstances under which abortion is legal in Ireland, the country has a long way to go before women’s fundamental human rights to health and reproductive autonomy are fulfilled.
Said Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the global legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Ireland has taken a crucial step to clarify the criteria for legal abortion, but women’s health and lives will still be at risk.
“Once enacted, Ireland’s abortion law will do nothing to help women who seek to end their pregnancies for many other reasons besides a threat to their lives. This includes women who are pregnant due to rape or incest, who are carrying fetuses with severe impairments, and who face other serious risks to their health.
“Essential reproductive health care is a fundamental human right, which Ireland is obliged to fulfill. The Irish government must continue to act and bring forth legislation that will expand women’s access to safe and legal abortion and the full range of essential reproductive health care.”
On paper, abortion has been legal in Ireland in exceptional circumstances since 1992 for women whose pregnancies place their lives at risk, including women who are at risk for suicide. But an absence of regulations on the procedure has made abortion virtually impossible to access even under these narrow circumstances. This has led women to seek abortions outside of the country or—for women who are unable to travel abroad—to continue with their pregnancies, putting their health and lives at risk. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 clarifies the conditions for legal abortion, as called for by the European Court of Human Rights in a 2010 judgment. The Dáil (House of Representatives) passed the bill on July 11. A draft of the bill was published on June 12 and an outline of the bill was published on April 30.
The legislation states that two doctors will have to confirm whether there is a physical threat to the life of the pregnant woman. In medical emergencies, one doctor will suffice to certify that a termination is justified. For pregnant women who are at risk of suicide, the bill sets forth that three doctors—an obstetrician and two psychiatrists—will have to verify their condition before they will be able to access an abortion.
Under the bill, medical staff is allowed to deny women abortions based on their personal and religious objections to the procedure. In those circumstances, the woman must be transferred to another medical provider. However, when there is an imminent danger to the life of the woman, medical staff must perform a legal abortion regardless of their personal or religious objections.
According to the bill, doctors who perform abortions outside of the narrow scope of the law, and women who undergo the procedure in these circumstances, are subject to prosecution and up to 14 years imprisonment. International standards are clear: criminalization of women having abortions violates human rights law.
The exceptionally restrictive Irish abortion regime goes against well-established human rights standards and has been criticized by several international human rights bodies. In the 2010 European Court of Human Rights case, A, B and C v. Ireland, the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that Ireland’s current abortion law is inconsistent with legal standards for abortion regulations in international human rights law, and in comparison to other countries in Europe. The court ruled that Ireland violated the human rights of a woman with cancer by failing to provide her a procedure through which she could determine whether she qualified for a legal abortion in the country.