LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A law permitting abortion in limited circumstances approved by Ireland’s parliament on Friday “fails women,” a rights group said.
Irish parliamentarians voted to allow abortion under certain conditions for the first time – when the woman’s life is under threat or if she is suicidal – following months of polarising debate in the Catholic country, including letters to Prime Minister Enda Kenny written in blood.
The law “neither reforms nor adds grounds for legal abortion, nor does it address other rights issues women in need of abortion in Ireland face,” New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
“A woman pregnant as a result of rape, for example, or whose pregnancy is not viable, still can’t get a legal abortion in Ireland,” the rights group added in a statement.
Kenny sparked protest on both sides of the debate by pushing through the compromise that will allow abortion only when a woman's life is in danger.
The two-decade debate over how Ireland should deal with a Supreme Court ruling that abortion be permitted when a woman's life is at risk was reopened last year following the death of a woman who was denied an abortion of her dying foetus.
Members of parliament in Ireland applauded the bill’s approval – even though it caused at least one head to roll in Kenny’s party – as did a handful of pro-abortion rights activists outside parliament, but it prompted mixed reactions from other campaigners and the wider public.
“#ireland's's new law does little 2 improve draconian restrictions on #abortion: E.g. women pregnant as result of rape can’t get legal abortion,” tweeted Lotte Leicht of HRW.
"Even if this law is enacted, only a very, very small percentage of women who need abortions will be able to access them in Ireland,” Mara Clarke, director of the London-based Abortion Support Network told the Guardian newspaper.
Some 4,000 Irish women travelled to British hospitals and clinics to terminate their pregnancies last year, the British newspaper reported, citing figures from the Irish department of health released on Thursday.
“This doesn't change much in practical terms other than to clarify where the existing law stands. More needs to be done,” read one comment on the Guardian website.
“I would hate for Ireland to have the 'buy one get one free' abortion culture of places like England. Fortunately Ireland is much more compassionate and forward thinking than England,” wrote another reader.
Twitter users shared mixed reviews of the bill under the hashtag #AbortionVote.
“Progress was made today but there's still so many flaws in Irish Abortion law. #rape #14years #AbortionVote,” tweeted @colmQcusak
“Never would have thought Ireland was so backward on abortion and women rights than Merica. So sad. #AbortionVote,” tweeted another user.
Ivana Bacik, a Labour senator for Dublin University, welcomed the vote but said an incident during the debate on the abortion bill in which MP Tom Barry pulled a female colleague onto his lap – dubbed Lapgate – showed the country faced a major cultural challenge.
"#AbortionVote offers progress for women at last – but #lapgate shows deep problem with political culture, need for more women in politics,” tweeted Bacik.
Prior to the vote, the proposed abortion legislation was strongly criticised by an op-ed in the Irish Times.
“Tonight the (almost) all-male parliament will vote to imprison a woman, for up to 14 years, who refuses to give her body to the sustenance of another human being, irrespective of almost all circumstances,” wrote columnist Vincent Browne.
“This intrusion on the autonomy of women is founded on the virulent misogyny that pervades our culture.”