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Ireland lawmakers approve of bill liberalizing abortion laws

Ireland's Parliament voted 138-24 on Tuesday to pass the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill [text], which would more liberally legalize abortions in cases of medical emergencies. Ireland currently has abortion laws which are heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, to which two-thirds of the country's population belongs, and impose strict restraints on situations in which abortion is allowed. Cardinal Sean Brady [official website] has raised concerns [Catholic bishops advocacy website] about the bill since it was introduced [JURIST report] in early May. Prime Minister Enda Kenny [official website] has indicated [AP report] that this law would not interfere with the country's constitutional ban on abortion, but would provide guidance for doctors on which abortions should be deemed medically necessary. The bill will now be sent back to the subcommittee on health for a second reading.

Ireland has some of the most conservative abortion laws in Europe, and the subject remains a highly divisive issue in the country. The legislation approved on Tuesday 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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