The Irish president signed the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill” — the so-called “abortion bill” — into law, meaning that for the first time in history a girl or woman with a life-threatening pregnancy in Ireland has legal safeguards on how she can access abortion in the jurisdiction.
While any progress for women’s rights is to be welcomed, the real news is how tiny this step forward is and how far Ireland still has to go to respect fundamental rights to reproductive health of girls and women. The new law does not change the right of access to abortion in Ireland, and continues to deny access to abortion no matter the threat to the health of the girl or woman, or any other circumstances of the pregnancy. Indeed, the law damagingly reinforces criminal sanctions for abortion in any nonlethal pregnancy, and provides for significant hurdles even in cases when an abortion is allowed.
The Irish constitution — while very restrictive on abortion — does allow life-saving terminations. But it was not until Ireland lost a case before the European Court of Human Rights in 2010, because a pregnant woman had to travel to the UK for an abortion to save her life, that politicians acknowledged the obligation to protect this right in law. The tragic death in October 2012 of Savita Hapappanavar following medical complications after she was refused an abortion further focused attention on the real life consequences for women and their families when there is no access to safe and legal abortion.
Unfortunately, despite the new law, and all the long debates and occasional misinformation that accompanied it, the vast majority of women and girls in Ireland who face crisis pregnancies, for whatever reason, will continue to be forced abroad — to the UK and elsewhere in the European Union — to access appropriate healthcare. That is an unacceptable situation, and an ongoing violation of basic rights.