Abortion in the Republic of Ireland
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Abortion in Ireland is illegal unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the mother. The availability of abortion services can be even more restricted in the absence of a readily available method of determining the circumstances in which an abortion might be lawfully obtained.
Abortion is a controversial issue in Irish politics and five national referendums have been held on the topic in the last 30 years.
In 2013, Ireland passed a new law allowing abortion under certain circumstances. On 30 July 2013, President Michael D. Higgins signed off on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 without referring it to the Supreme Court after meeting his advisers, the Council of State. The new law provides for a woman's right to an abortion if her life is at risk, including from suicide.
Life in Ireland
At independence from the UK in 1922, the Offences against the Person Act 1861 remained in force, maintaining all abortions to be illegal and subject to punishment. One of Ireland's best-known abortionists, Mamie Cadden, was famously sentenced to death by hanging in 1957 – this was later commuted to life imprisonment – when one of her patients died. In 1983 the Constitution of Ireland was amended to add the Eighth Amendment, which asserted that the unborn had an explicit right to life.
In 1992, a controversy arose over the issue of whether a suicidal minor who was pregnant from statutory rape could leave Ireland for an abortion that is lawful in another country (Attorney General v. X, known as the 'X Case'). Another referendum was held in 1992, in which two amendments were passed that established the 'right to travel' and the 'right to information'. A third proposal, the proposed Twelfth Amendment, would have further restricted abortion laws in Ireland, but was defeated.
A further referendum was held in 2002 on the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which would have removed the threat of suicide as a grounds for legal abortion. It also proposed reducing protection for the unborn to those already implanted in the womb. It too was defeated.
In 2005, two Irish women and a Lithuanian woman who had previously travelled to England for abortion brought suit in the European Court of Human Rights asserting that restrictive and unclear Irish laws violate several provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case, A. B. and C. v. Ireland, was heard before the Grand Chamber of the Court on 9 December 2009 and was decided on 16 December 2010. In that case the Court ruled that the first two women's rights were not violated by being forced to travel because Irish law was "legitimately trying to protect public morals". ECHR also ruled that Irish law struck a fair balance between the women's rights to respect of their private lives and the rights of the unborn. Although it found that Ireland had violated the Convention by failing to provide an accessible and effective procedure by which a woman can have established whether she qualifies for a legal abortion under current Irish law. The Court's decision is binding on Ireland and all of the member states of the Council of Europe.
The guide to professional conducts for registered medical practitioners by the Irish Medical Council as of the 7th edition in 2009 explains on the issue of abortion amongst other clauses:
In current obstetrical practice, rare complicationscan arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy)is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there maybe little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances,it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby (Guide-to-Professional-Conduct-and-Behaviour-for-Registered-Medical-Practitioners-pdf.pdf)
A government-appointed Expert Group on Abortion released its findings in November 2012, saying that Ireland was obliged to implement the court's decision and recommending legislative and statutory reform.
The death of Savita Halappanavar led to protests in 2012 demanding changes to Ireland's anti-abortion laws and a highly public investigation by the Health Service Executive, because after a miscarriage had been diagnosed, she was denied an abortion because the fetus's heart was still beating. In response to the report of the expert group and to the controversial death of Savita Halappanavar in an Irish hospital, the government announced that it would enact legislation clarifying the health circumstances under which termination is permitted. In October 2013, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) issued a report saying that the health system failed Halappanavar; she was not given the most basic of health treatments, and that her death could have been prevented.
On 30 April 2013, the government published 33 pages of draft legislation for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 (previously entitled Protection of Maternal Life Bill 2013) with the intention of enacting the legislation before the 2013 Dáil summer recess. The Bill was approved by the Dáil in the early morning of 12 July 2013. On 30 July 2013, President Michael D. Higgins signed off on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.
|This section is outdated. (July 2013)|
The laws which govern abortion in Ireland are section 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. As amended and in force these provide that:
58. Every Woman, being with Child, who, with Intent to procure her own Miscarriage, shall unlawfully administer to herself any Poison or other noxious Thing, or shall unlawfully use any Instrument or other Means whatsoever with the like Intent, and whosoever, with Intent to procure the Miscarriage of any Woman, whether she be or be not with Child, shall unlawfully administer to her or cause to be taken by her any Poison or other noxious Thing, or shall unlawfully use any Instrument or other Means whatsoever with the like Intent, shall be guilty of [an offence], and being convicted thereof shall be liable, ..., to [imprisonment] for Life ....
59. Whosoever shall unlawfully supply or procure any Poison or other noxious Thing, or any Instrument or Thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with Intent to procure the Miscarriage of any Woman, whether she be or be not with Child, shall be guilty of [an offence], and being convicted thereof shall be liable, ..., to [imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years].
Provision has been made for the repeal of these sections by the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, although the As of 8 August 2013[update] this Act has not been commenced. When commenced the old offence will be replaced with a single offence of the intentional destruction of "unborn human life" with a maximum sentence being reduced from life imprisonment to 14 years. The 2013 Act further provides that abortion is legal when there is a real and substantial risk to a woman's life (including risk brought about buy a threat of suicide), and where the procedures carried out in the Act are complied with.
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
Nine years after the adoption of this amendment the Attorney-General applied to the High Court for an injunction preventing a fourteen year old girl, who was pregnant as the result of rape, from travelling abroad for an abortion in the United Kingdom, where abortion is lawfully available. Ultimately the Supreme court ruled that it had jurisdiction derived from the constitution to grant such an injunction but declined to do so on the basis that her suicidal condition constituted a risk to her life which would justify an abortion. The case, known as the X case generated great controversy on both sides of the abortion debate and has resulted in a further four referendums being put to the people two of which passed, these being the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments. These added two sentences to the text inserted by the eighth amendment:
This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state.
This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.
A third proposal in 1992, the proposed Twelfth Amendment, would have excluded the threat of suicide from justifying an abortion, but was defeated.
A further referendum was held in 2002 on the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002, also proposed to remove the threat of suicide as a grounds for legal abortion, and also failed.
Several polls have been taken on the subject:
- A 1997 Irish Times/MRBI poll found that 18% believed that abortion should never be permitted, 77% believed that it should be allowed in certain circumstances (this was broken down into: 35% that one should be allowed in the event that the woman's life is threatened; 14% if her health is at risk; 28% that "an abortion should be provided to those who need it") and 5% were undecided.
- A September 2004 Royal College of Surgeons survey for the Crisis Pregnancy Agency found that, in the under-45 age groups, 51% supported abortion on-demand, with 39% favouring the right to abortion in limited circumstances. Only 8% felt that abortion should not be permitted in any circumstances.
- A September 2005 Irish Examiner/Lansdowne poll found that 36% believe abortion should be legalised while 47% do not.
- A June 2007 TNS/MRBI poll found that 43% supported legal abortion if a woman believed it was in her best interest while 51% remained opposed. 82% favoured legalisation for cases when the woman's life is in danger, 75% when the foetus cannot survive outside the womb, and 73% when the pregnancy has resulted from sexual abuse.
- A January 2010 Irish Examiner/Red C online poll found that 60% of 18–35-year olds believe abortion should be legalised, and that 10% of this age group had been in a relationship where an abortion took place. The same survey also showed that 75% of women believed the morning-after pill should be an over-the-counter (OTC) drug, as opposed to a prescription drug.
- A September 2012 Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes poll of 923 people showed that 80% of voters would support a change to the law to allow abortion where the life of the woman was at risk, with 16% opposed and 4% undecided.
- A November 2012 Sunday Business Post/Red C poll of 1,003 adults showed that 85% of voters would like the government to "Legislate for the X case, which means allowing abortion where the mother's life is threatened, including by suicide", with 10% opposed and 5% undecided. The same poll also found that 82% of voters supported "A constitutional amendment to extend the right to abortion to all cases where the health of the mother is seriously threatened and also in cases of rape", and 36% of voters supported "A constitutional amendment to allow for legal abortion in any case where a woman requests it". In addition, 63% of voters also supported "A constitutional amendment to limit the X case, by excluding a threat of suicide as a grounds for abortion, but still allowing abortion, where the mother's life is threatened outside of suicide".
- A January 2013 Paddy Power/Red C poll of 1,002 adults found that 29% of voters believed that there should be a constitutional amendment to allow abortion "in any case where the woman requests it". 35% supported legislating for the X case allowing for abortions where the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide. 26% supported legislating for the X case but excluding suicide and 8% believed no legislation at all was necessary.
- A January 2013 Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes poll of 916 voters found that 87% would support legislation to provide abortion where the woman's life was in danger for reasons other than threat of suicide, 80% would support legislation to provide abortion where there was a foetal abnormality meaning the baby could not survive outside of the womb, 74% would support legislation to provide abortion where the pregnancy was a result of rape, and 59% would support legislation to provide abortion where the woman displayed suicidal feelings. Overall, 92% supported allowing abortion in one of these four circumstances, while 51% supported allowing abortion in all four circumstances.
- A February 2013 Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll of 1,000 voters in face-to-face interviews in all constituencies found that 84% felt that abortion should be allowed when the woman's life is at risk, 79% felt that abortion should be allowed whenever the foetus cannot survive outside the womb, 78% felt that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, 71% felt that abortion should be allowed where the woman is suicidal as a result of the pregnancy (the X case result), 70% felt that abortion should be allowed when the woman's health is at risk, and 37% felt that abortion should be provided when a woman deems it to be in her best interest.
- A June 2013 Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll of 1,000 voters in face-to-face interviews in all constituencies found that 75% were in favour of the government's proposed legislation (the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013), with 14% opposed and 11% choosing "Don't know". Furthermore, 89% felt that abortion should be allowed when the woman's life is at risk, 83% felt that abortion should be allowed whenever the foetus cannot survive outside the womb, 81% felt that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or abuse, 78% felt that abortion should be allowed when the woman's health is at risk, 52% felt that abortion should be allowed where the woman is suicidal as a result of the pregnancy, and 39% felt that abortion should be provided when a woman deems it to be in her best interest.
Irish women seeking abortions in Britain
Estimates as to the number of Irish women seeking abortions in Britain vary. In 2001, an estimated 7,000 women travelled abroad to obtain an abortion. Statistics showed that 4,149 Irish women had abortions in Britain in 2011.
In May 2007 a 17-year-old girl, known only as "Miss D", who was pregnant with a foetus suffering from anencephaly (the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp; blind, deaf, unconscious, and unable to feel pain, a disorder which most babies do not survive), was prevented from travelling to Britain by the Health Service Executive. The High Court ruled on 9 May 2007 that she could not lawfully be prevented from travelling even though she was a ward of the state.
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- Government Publishes General Scheme of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 Irish Government News Service, 30 April 2013.
- Ministers reach agreement on 'maternal life bill' RTÉ News, 30 April 2013.
- Cabinet agrees abortion draft legislation after marathon meeting Irish Times, 30 April 2013.
- Government publishes draft of abortion legislation Irish Independent, 30 April 2013.
- As amended by the Statute Law Revision Act 1892, the Statute Law Revision (No. 2) Act 1893, and the Criminal Law Act 1997.
- As amended by the Statute Law Revision Act 1892, and the Criminal Law Act 1997.
- Kennedy, Geraldine. (11 December 1997). "77% say limited abortion right should be provided." The Irish Times. Retrieved 11 January 2006.
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- "Sunday Times poll shows party support remains relatively unchanged ahead of new Dáil session". Rte.ie. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
- The Sunday Business Post (1 December 2012) – "Red C poll: majority demand X case legislation"
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- "''Poll shows strong support for abortion in cases of rape, fatal foetal abnormality''". The Journal.ie. 20 January 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
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- "High Court grants 'Miss D' right to travel". The Irish Times. 5 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007.