Ireland to clarify law on abortion when mother’s life is at risk

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Ireland Government buildings

By Laura Smith-Spark, (CNN) — Ireland’s government is to introduce a new law and regulations to clarify that abortions are permissible when the life — but not health — of the mother is at risk, Minister of Health James Reilly announced Tuesday.

The decision, made in a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, follows controversy over the death of Savita Halappanavar from blood poisoning seven weeks ago.

The government is acting on a report from an expert group on abortion, commissioned after a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights.

It is likely to be several months before the proposed legislation, which could prove divisive in the majority Catholic nation, is finalized.

Reilly said that he was aware of the strength of feeling around the issue of abortion, but that the government had a duty to ensure the safety of pregnant women in Ireland.

“For that purpose, we will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman’s life,” he said in a statement.

“We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child.”

The death of Halappanavar, an Indian-born dentist who had moved to Ireland, prompted outrage among many there and overseas.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, says his wife was advised that her unborn baby would probably die. In extreme pain, she asked for the abortion but was told that Ireland is a Catholic country and an abortion could not be done while the fetus was alive.

Three days after the request for a termination was made, the fetus died and was removed. Four days later, on October 28, Savita Halappanavar died.

The proposed changes would bring the country’s laws in line with a 1992 Irish Supreme Court ruling that established a woman’s right to abortion when her life is at risk, including by suicide.

CNN’s Richard Allen Greene and journalist Peter Taggart contributed to this report.

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