As Texas and North Carolina move towards sharply restricting abortion access, a country infamous for its own restrictive abortion laws is inching towards liberalization. Last week, Irish lawmakers passed a bill that would allow abortions to be performed to save a woman’s life. This vote moves the government closer to following a 1992 Supreme Court decision, which found that abortion should be legal if doctors feel it is necessary to protect a woman’s health, including if she threatens to commit suicide; however, six previous governments refused to pass a law in support of this ruling.
The latest push to liberalize Ireland’s law comes in the wake of Savita Halappanavar’s death last October, in a hospital in Galway. The 31-year-old Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted into the hospital with back pain; after being told that she was miscarrying, both Halappanavar and her husband requested that the pregnancy be terminated, but the hospital refused, saying that since the fetus still had a heartbeat they couldn’t provide an abortion. By the time the fetal heartbeat could no longer be detected, Halappanavar’s condition had worsened, and she died a week after entering the hospital.
While Catholic leaders wasted no time in denouncing last week’s vote, a June survey by the Irish Times found widespread support for legal abortion. Eighty-nine percent were in favor of abortions when the woman’s life is in danger, and almost as many—83%–support abortions when the fetus is unable to survive at birth. Eighty-one percent support abortion when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, and 78% are in favor when the pregnancy puts a woman’s health, as opposed to just her life, in danger. (The survey had an error margin of three percentage points.) The current bill would only legalize abortion in cases where a woman’s life is in danger—including if she is at risk for suicide.
The bill goes to a final vote this week.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.