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Ireland lawmakers approve legislation allowing abortion when mother's life at risk

The Irish Parliament [official website] voted 127-31 Friday in favor of a bill that would allow a woman to undergo an abortion if her life is at risk. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill [text, PDF] was passed after contentious debate [CNN report], particularly concerning a provision that allows a woman to undergo an abortion if she is at risk of committing suicide. Opponents argue that this provision will allow any woman to threaten suicide just to undergo the procedure. A provision allowing abortions if the woman is the victim of incest or rape was not included in the final version. The legislation also includes criminal penalties for women who undergo unlawful abortions or for doctors and hospitals that perform them.

The legislation was proposed shortly after the death of Savita Halappanavar [BBC report], a 31-year-old dentist who was denied a potentially life saving abortion. Following her death, Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore [official website] pledged [JURIST report] to bring "legal clarity" to the country's abortion laws. In November, the Department of Health [official website] was provided with an expert group report [Irish Examiner report] on abortion laws, which was commissioned after a 2010 ruling [JURIST report] by the European Court of Human Rights [official website]. The ruling stated that Ireland failed to provide "effective and adequate procedures" to allow women to exercise their right to a lawful abortion and that the country's legal situation [BBC backgrounder] constituted a "chilling factor" for both women and doctors.

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