Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill: Ireland Now Allows Life-Saving Abortions, But Will the Catholic Church?


Pro-choice advocates are making history this week as the Irish parliament voted Tuesday to approve the first steps to allow abortions when the mother's life is at risk. Despite promising measures, the final steps to securing the law will not occur without resistance from the heavily-present Catholic Church.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy bill, which received a backing of 138-24, would allow abortions to be performed when the mother faces life-threatening circumstances from her pregnancy. The current law asserts that the lives of the mother and the child are equal, making abortion in all circumstances unavailable to women living in Ireland. Originally outlawed in 1986, the progress of today's vote is promising for pro-choice supporters who have been fighting for abortion rights ever since. Although this bill is a milestone for activists, the road to abortion access will be paved with continual pushback from the Catholic Church.

The death of a 31-year old woman stirred outrage among Irish citizens who are skeptical of the role the Catholic Church is playing in policy. Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist, died in an Irish hospital due to complications from a miscarriage. The doctors cited the vague, Catholic-influenced laws for reasoning to withhold care as the young woman miscarried. Her family remains outraged that religious beliefs outside their own caused the death of their loved one and has challenged legislators on the availability of medical care for pregnant women.

An estimated 84% of Irish citizens identify as Roman Catholic, creating a strong presence of the Catholic Church throughout the country. Despite the predominately Catholic population, dynamics between the church and state relationship have changed, causing concern for the church. Following the backing of the bill, the church released a statement illuminating their fear of a slippery slope, calling the bill a "Trojan horse" only leading to more access to abortions.

The decision to clarify the original law came with support from the medical community. A portion of the bill was created with a panel of psychologists and doctors, unanimously agreeing that a woman would commit suicide if denied the right to choose. More evidence has shown that since the ban was placed on abortions in 1986, psychologically distressed women have been seeking abortions in other countries or even in less-than-safe avenues. While the law doesn't allow women the opportunity to choose, it is the first step in providing basic care when the mother's life is in danger.

While the Catholic Church will be vocal in preventing the "slippery slope" from occurring, pro-choice activists can take solace in the progress being made. Next week's final vote will determine the future of abortion in Ireland and potentially provide women with more rights over their own health.