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Irish bill brings more clarity – and more heat – to abortion debate

The Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill spells out the terms where women could obtain abortions, which are currently illegal. Ireland's prime minister vows it will be law by summer.

By Correspondent / May 1, 2013

Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny arrives to Sao Bento palace in Lisbon for a meeting with his Portuguese counterpart Pedro Passos Coelho Monday. The Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill will become law by the summer, says Prime Minister Kenny, but for now it has been referred to the parliament's health committee – and is also being scrutinized by legal, medical, and political groups outside parliament.

Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters

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Dublin, Ireland

It came half a day late, but late last night the Irish government finally published the "heads of bill" outlining its proposed abortion legislation – though it did little to stem arguments about the legality and morality of abortion in Ireland, where the practice has been outlawed.

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The Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill will become law by the summer, says Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, but for now it has been referred to the parliament's health committee – and is also being scrutinized by legal, medical, and political groups outside parliament.

As reported in The Christian Science Monitor Monday, the legislation comes days, weeks, months or even decades late, depending on when you count from. The bill follows a 1992 judgment by the Irish Supreme Court that said women must be able to obtain abortions if their life is threatened in pregnancy, including by risk of suicide.

This issue of providing an abortion to a woman deemed suicidal has divided Ireland's parliament, leaving both the leading party in government, Fine Gael, and leading opposition party Fianna Fáil riven.

The bill as published is designed to assuage the fears of anti-abortion lawmakers who fear widespread abortion on Irish shores. Speaking in parliament today, Mr. Kenny said: "There is no question or intent in any circumstances for an opening for, as they say, for abortion on demand in this country," going on to restate his promise to enact the law by summer.

At present, abortion is outlawed under the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act, while the eighth amendment to the Constitution, dating from 1983, says the right to life of the unborn is equal to that of the pregnant woman.

The proposed law states that in cases of a “real and substantial” risk to the life of the woman due to risk of suicide, three consultant doctors, one obstetrician and two psychiatrists, must unanimously certify the need for a termination. If a unanimously decision is not agreed upon, a second panel comprising three more doctors will have to be convened.

The high threshold appears to have eased the concerns of some government backbenchers. Brian Walsh, who previously said he would vote against the bill, is meeting with Mr. Kenny to discuss the legislation. Even the name of the bill has been changed – previously it was called the Protection of Maternal Life Bill – apparently to appease anti-abortion opinion.

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