Last night the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish Parliament, passed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. Here’s the text, which must now be considered by the Seanad. If voted through there, it will come into law if and when it’s signed by the President.
The bill clearly results from the death of Savita Halappanavar, but also aims at giving effect to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in A, B and C v Ireland, in which the Grand Chamber concluded that C’s right to respect for private life was breached (see paragraph 267 of the judgment)
by reason of the absence of any implementing legislative or regulatory regime providing an accessible and effective procedure by which the third applicant could have established whether she qualified for a lawful abortion in Ireland …
It seems to me that the bill provides a reasonably accessible procedure, and so on its face complies with A, B and C. We’ll have to see whether it’s effective in practice.
Clauses 7, 8 and 9 are key. They lay down circumstances in which it will be lawful to carry out a medical procedure resulting in which an unborn human life is ended.
Abortion will be lawful by an obstetrician under clause 7 where two doctors (one of them an obstetrician) certify that only that procedure can avert a real and substantial risk to the woman’s life from a physical illness. Clause 8 covers emergency situations, providing that abortion by a doctor is lawful where he or she certifies that there’s an immediate risk to the woman’s life from a physical illness, and abortion is immediately necessary to save the woman. Clause 9 covers the risk of suicide: it will be lawful for an obstetrician to carry out an abortion if three doctors – an obstetrician and two psychiatrists – certify that only an abortion will avert the risk of suicide.
Clauses 10-15 establish a system of reviews of doctors’ decisions – effectively giving a woman the right to appeal if a certificate is denied under clause 7 or 9.
Clause 17 provides for conscientious objection, making it clear no health professional is obliged to take part in an abortion. What’s less clear is whether a doctor or nurse can properly refuse to take part in the certification process – that doesn’t seem to me to be covered by clause 17.
Clause 22 creates the offence of intentionally destroying unborn human life. Anyone who does so can be sent to prison for up to 14 years – but they can only be prosecuted with the consent of the DPP.