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Abortion legislation to be tabled in Ireland


Auveen Woods
WVoN co-editor

Legislation to provide for limited access to abortion in Ireland is to be introduced to the Irish parliament for debate this week.

The legislation would make abortion legal only in cases were there is a proven “real and substantial risk to the life” of the pregnant woman.

Abortion is completely illegal in Ireland and is a highly divisive issue that successive Irish governments have deliberately avoided since the mid-90s.

The Offences Against the Person’s Act 1861 is the major source of abortion law in the country, which states that any person “performing, attempting and or assisting in an abortion is liable to penal servitude for life”. 

The same legislation also governs abortion in Northern Ireland, where they are also illegal except in circumstances of risk to mental or physical health.

A 1983 referendum of the Irish constitution elevated the life of the undefined “unborn” to the equal status of the pregnant woman.

As a result, family planning groups and student groups were banned from offering abortion counselling, information and aid in travelling to Britain to procure abortions.

The ban was not lifted until 1992.

The proposed legislation that will be debated in the Irish Parliament comes two years after the European Court of Human Rights found that Ireland had failed to properly implement the constitutional right to abortion that had been acknowledged by the Irish Supreme Court ruling in the infamous “X Case“, 20 years before.

On February 6, 1992, a court issued an order preventing a 14-year-old rape victim, known as “X”, from travelling to England for an abortion, despite acknowledging that the girl was suicidal.

Days later, amid public outcry over the ruling the Supreme Court ruled that under the constitution, abortion was legal where there was a real and substantial threat to the life of the woman.

In the end the girl “X” at the centre of the case miscarried.

If the legislation does pass it will do little to reduce the numbers of Irish women travelling abroad for abortion which the Abortion Support Network estimate at about 4000 annually.

The Bill will be voted on in the Irish house of Parliament on April 19.

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