Abortion Legal In Ireland For First Time, But Only To A Very Limited Extent

On Wednesday in the Republic of Ireland, a new law that allows women to have abortions, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, came into effect. This is the first abortion-supportive legislation that Ireland has ever seen. Under the new act, individuals can terminate pregnancies, but only if doctors think there is a serious risk to their life by way of physical illness, medical emergency, or suicide.

The Act was originally signed into law back in July. This new legislation came about after the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Irish woman who miscarried in October 2012 after doctors refused to give her an abortion until the fetus' heart stopped. Halappanavar’s tragic death gave way to reproductive-rights activism in Ireland, and the new legislation, albeit limited, is a huge step for the country.

“There were so many things that went wrong and so many points of action that could have resulted in a different outcome,” said Dr. James Reilly, Minister for Health.

While the law is a step in the right direction for Ireland, it’s not necessarily a landmark achievement because of its restrictive nature. Only a tiny percentage of women will qualify for a legal abortion under the new legislation. In the cases of rape or severe deformity of the fetus, abortion is still illegal, and the "risk of death" exception is complex. Explains Jezebel:

In cases of risk of death from physical illness, two physicians — one obstetrician and one specialist — must concur. In cases of risk of death from suicide, three physicians must concur: an obstetrician, a psychiatrist with experience treating women postpartum, and another psychiatrist. In cases of medical emergency, a single physician is responsible for providing the diagnosis and terminating the pregnancy alone.

Photo via Flickr/kateausburn