Ireland’s Law a Modest Step Forward

Technically, abortion has been legal in Ireland for two decades, but under extremely narrow circumstances. In practical terms, though, legal exceptions to a near total ban on abortion were either unclear or disregarded or both. Many women were denied legal health services as a result, sometimes with tragic consequences. Last night, the Irish government published the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013, which may bring some clarity to reproductive health, according to an article in the Irish Times:

“If this bill is passed, every one of the tens of thousands of pregnant women who are admitted to hospital every year will know that any action which may be needed to save her life in an emergency will be taken,” said Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s Tánaiste, or deputy prime minister.

This is certainly a step in the right direction. But the bill should have gone further. Abortion under most circumstances is criminalized, and women and doctors could serve absurdly long prison sentences for violating Ireland’s laws. And there are still too many ways that women can be denied essential health services.

In a country where 75 percent of the population believes abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances, we will hope this is the first instance of long-term progress.