Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny [official website] on Wednesday introduced [speech transcript] the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 [text, PDF], which would establish new rules determining when abortions may be performed to save the life of the mother. The proposed law would not significantly change the country's strict laws on abortion, but rather would provide doctors with clarity on how to assess whether an abortion is medically necessary. The prime minister clarified that abortion would be legally permitted only if it is "unanimously certified that it is the only treatment that will save the woman's life." The law would also set a maximum 14-year penalty for the performance of an abortion deemed not to be medically necessary.
Ireland has some of the most conservative abortion laws in Europe, and the subject remains a highly divisive [NYT report] issue. Wednesday's proposed legislation comes shortly after the death of Savita Halappanavar [BBC report], a 31-year-old dentist who was denied a potentially life saving abortion in Ireland. Following her death, Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore [official website] pledged [JURIST report] to bring "legal clarity" to Ireland's abortion laws. In November the Irish Department of Health received an expert group report [Irish Examiner report] on how Ireland should deal with its abortion laws. The report was commissioned after a 2010 ruling [JURIST report] by the European Court of Human Rights [official website], which stated that Ireland failed to provide "effective and adequate procedures" to allow women to exercise their right to a lawful abortion and that the country's legal situation [BBC backgrounder] constituted a "chilling factor" for both women and doctors. The ruling came after a woman suffered complications when she had to travel from the Irish Republic to the UK in 2005 to seek an abortion.