The Irish Government has led a 111-20 defeat on a vital abortion access bill that would legislate a woman’s right to seek a termination if her life is in danger from the pregnancy.
The bill, a private member bill put forward by Clare Daly of the Socialist Party, aimed to create a legal framework that would have allowed access to abortion for women whose lives were at risk if they were to continue with their pregnancies.
The defeat of the Bill had been signalled last night when health minister James Reilly confirmed that the government “cannot accept” the legislation as it currently stood, because it was “lacking in certain legal respects”.
Reilly said Section 6 of the bill – which outlined circumstances under which a GP could be presumed to have obtained consent to treat a pregnant woman when there were no means available to determine her consent – may have been in conflict with the Constitution.
This comes after the European Court of Human Rights issued an statement in 2010 that condemned Ireland for failing to legislate for the right to abortion in limited circumstances, in line with a Supreme Court ruling known as the “X Case” of 1992 which said a woman must have a right to an abortion if there was substantial risk to her life should she continue the pregnancy. While such procedures are technically allowed, successive governments have failed to enact legislation to give full effect to that ruling, meaning there is no guide for women and health care providers — with pro-choice groups pointing out that this has had a chilling effect on accessing these vital services.
However, the Irish Government was keen to deflect criticism, saying it was only proper to wait for a report it has commissioned on adopting the legal framework that is due out in the coming months and that once that was in lawmakers would act swiftly to make this change.
Minister of State for Health Roisín Shortall thanked Ms Daly and her colleagues for moving the Bill. She reiterated the Government’s commitment to the “expeditious implementation” of the European Court of Human Rights judgement. This found the State had violated the rights of a woman who had cancer and who was forced to travel abroad to get an abortion.
Ms Shortall said she agreed with people who were critical of the fact that the issue had not been addressed. “Many years have been lost in respect of the commitment to legislate for the X case,’” she added.
She said it was unfair to criticise the current Government, given that an expert group had been set up and legislation would be introduced in accordance with its recommendations.
“As soon as the expert group reports at the end of June, the Government is absolutely committed to taking action in this area,” Ms Shortall added.
Critics however, have condemned the failure to move the bill saying that this is just another stall tactic. That it even required a private member bill to move this issue has been condemned by many as a sign of how intransigent lawmakers have been.
Indeed, several women who like many in Ireland had to travel to Britain in order to get the terminations they needed because they couldn’t find a care provider where they lived, met with lawmakers ahead of this vote to try and convince them to make the change as quickly as possible.
It seems that, for the time-being at least, Irish women in need of this service remain almost as vulnerable as they were in 1992.