Pro-life groups in Ireland fear that recommendations from a panel of experts appointed by Irish Health Minister James Reilly would be the first steps to introduce legal abortion in Ireland.
The minister is expected to issue new regulations following the recommendations of an expert panel set up in January as a response to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in the case of A, B & C v. Ireland, from 2010. The court instructed Ireland to establish new laws or regulations that clarify circumstances when abortion is available in cases where a woman’s life is thought to be at risk.
While the ECHR did not recognize a right to abortion under European human rights law, the court cited the Irish Supreme Court’s precedent in the controversial 1992 X Case, that established a right to abortion under the Irish Constitution when the life of a woman is subject to a “real and substantial risk”.
Despite that ruling, Ireland has consistently rejected attempts to allow for legal abortion, in three referendums and multiple attempts at legislation. An attempt from the minister of health to issue regulations permitting abortion without passing legislature would be very controversial and likely to roil a majority of Irish citizens.
Irish pro-life groups have been active in the lead up to the release of the recommendations from the expert panel, expected as soon as this week. Half a dozen County Councils have passed unanimous or near unanimous pro-life resolutions, rallies have been held, and voters have contacted their representatives.
Over 140 doctors and health care experts gathered for the International Symposium on Maternal Health in Dublin last month and collected the conclusions of the symposium in the Dublin Declaration on Maternal Healthcare. It finds that “direct abortion is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.” The declaration adds that abortion and medical treatments designed to save the life of women are “fundamentally different” and concludes, “The prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.”
Dr. Eoghan De Faoite, one of the organizers of the Symposium, spoke with the Friday Fax about the prospects of abortion becoming available in Ireland through new regulations from the ministry of health. He feared it was a distinct possibility back in January, when the committee of experts was first formed in response to the A, B and C judgment. Such regulations would establish a “right to abortion in Ireland for the first time.” He was alarmed by how few medical experts were on the panel, and how many were open abortion advocates. But his outlook has changed following the strong pro-life response to the news that the health minister might issue new guidelines on abortion.
Dr. De Foite added that “history shows that the country does not need abortion”. He noted, that contrary to popular misconceptions, in Ireland “no life-saving intervention is ever withheld from pregnant women if it is necessary to save their life.”
The Irish Independent raised the specter of a government breakdown if the health minister does not co-operate on the issue of abortion with the rest of the governing coalition, which seems happy to maintain the status quo.