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Ireland president signs country's first abortion bill into law

Irish President Michael Higgins [official website] on Tuesday signed the country's first abortion bill into law, legalizing the practice in exceptional cases where doctors deem a woman's life at risk. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill [text, PDF] allows women to pursue an abortion to alleviate life-threatening conditions, including a women's own threat to commit suicide if refused a termination. The bill is Ireland's first legislation on abortion [JURIST report] since 1867, which outlawed the practice with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The current maximum sentence for an abortion if 14 years. While the bill does grant women the right to an abortion in life-threatening conditions, amendments that would have allowed for an abortion in cases of rape or incest were withdrawn during the debate [JURIST report] over the bill. Similar amendments permitting the procedure for cases of fatal fetal defects were also abandoned during debate.

Abortion restrictions are a contentious issue around the world. In May the Supreme Court of El Salvador refused [CBS report] to reconsider that country's complete ban on abortions, despite international urging [JURSIT report] to do so. The court denied the request of doctors to perform a therapeutic abortion on a woman pregnant with a fetus developing without a brain where the woman's life was threatened by kidney failure and lupus symptoms aggravated by her pregnancy. After the ruling, El Salvador's health ministry allowed [Guardian report] the woman's doctors to perform a C-section in order to save her life because at 26 weeks, her pregnancy had advanced to a stage not regulated by the country's strict abortion laws. Ireland's new law amends the country's constitutional ban on abortion, so anti-abortion activists are likely to pursue a Supreme Court challenge.

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