Update: Ireland’s abortion laws may be liberalized

Earlier this month in Ireland Savita Halappanavarafter died after she was denied a medically necessary abortion. In the following days, allies in Ireland and across the world protested the Republic’s archaic and convoluted anti-abortion laws. Now, according to the Irish Independent, Ireland might be headed for long-needed policy change:

The Government has been told in the expert group report that the State is under a legal obligation to establish “effective and accessible” procedures so that women who are “legitimately entitled” can have an abortion in Ireland…

The report suggests it will be necessary to repeal the 1861 statute governing abortion, which it believes has a “chilling effect” on the treatment of pregnant woman in Irish hospitals.

The top-secret report was commissioned from an expert group following a European Court of Human Rights finding that an Irish citizen’s rights were violated because of the absence of procedures to establish if she qualified for a lawful abortion.

The report, expected to be published tomorrow and commissioned before Savita’s death, disappointingly maintains the government’s right and responsibility to “regulate and monitor” the status of fetuses, which are granted a “right to life” based on a 1983 constitutional amendment. (For a concise history of abortion legislation in Ireland, check out the Guardian‘s helpful summary).

We’ll have to wait to read the full report tomorrow, but it seems the panel makes no call to loosen restrictions on what reasons to terminate are “good enough,” let alone to guarantee reproductive autonomy regardless of a woman’s motivations for seeking an abortion. Yet the “expert group” does stress the importance of clarifying the country’s stances to make sure that medically necessary abortions are not just legal but accessible–and that doctors can save lives like Savita’s without fearing prosecution.

These recommendations don’t go nearly far enough. However, an official, kind-of-state-sanctioned call for legislative reform offers an opportunity for Savita’s angry allies to push for policies that will ensure abortion rights for all Irish women.

New Haven, CT

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX, a national legal education campaign against campus gender-based violence. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NPR. Through Know Your IX, she has organized with students across the country to build campuses free from discrimination and violence, developed federal policy on Title IX enforcement, and has testified at the Senate. At Yale Law, Alexandra focuses on antidiscrimination law and is a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Alexandra is committed to developing and strengthening responses to gender-based violence outside the criminal justice system through writing, organizing, and the law. Keep an eye out for The Feminist Utopia Project, co-edited by Alexandra and forthcoming from the Feminist Press (2015).

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/memeremalek/ katherine norton malek

    I am very surprised Ireland’s current Pres. has not done something to effect a change in this archaic and dangerous practice. I was so impressed with his smack-down of a Tea Partyer during the US election season in a radio interview. At the very least, this woman was not a Catholic , not an Ireland national and therefore not bound by Catholic dogma or the country’s laws governing medical care, which choses the faint heartbeat of an unsustainable fetus over the life of a vital woman, who was NOT seeking an abortion, did not want one until she was told the fetus she was carrying would never survive. It’s a tragedy that should never have happened and a national disgrace for Ireland. I hope someone in her family brings wrongful death lawsuit against Ireland, the hospital and every medical professional who sat back and let this woman die a horrific and painful death. Shame on ALL of you!! Don’t know how you can look in the mirror.

  • http://feministing.com/members/stitchy/ Sean

    Unfortunately the position of President in Ireland is largely symbolic – much like that of the Queen in the UK. So it comes down to the government, and Irish politicians fear this issue like no other.

  • http://feministing.com/members/gwenfrewi/ Gwenfrewi Morgan

    Two points:

    Ireland has one of the lowest rates of maternal mortality in the world, – far lower than the UK’s, for example.

    It has yet to be established that the septicemia from which Savita died was a consequence of her miscarriage, and whether her death could have been avoided by an abortion.