Savita’s death prompts law review in Ireland

London: Ireland on Wednesday published a long-awaited bill that lays down new rules on life-saving abortions, as part of legislative changes promised after Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar died following a miscarriage last year.

The new draft, which will bring clarity to the country's stringent anti-termination laws, forms part of the changes promised by the government after Savita's death.

"I do hope that we can bring everybody with us, on an issue that I know is sensitive," Prime Minister Enda Kenny told reporters in Dublin after his government published the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Calling on Catholic conservatives within his own party to back the bill or be expelled, he stressed that the government was seeking only "a clarification of rights within existing law".

Kenny said the bill would set a maximum 14-year prison sentence for anyone involved in an illegal abortion, whether doctor or patient.

The current law, dating to 1861, sets the maximum penalty at life.

The new bill, which will have to be passed in both houses of the Irish Parliament, will allow for limited legal termination where there is a threat to the mother's life.

Savita, 31, was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to University Hospital Galway last year and died of blood poisoning four days after delivering a dead foetus.

An inquest into her death last month was told that her two requests for termination were turned down on the grounds that Ireland is a "Catholic country".

The Irish government, which has been reviewing the country's complex laws on termination, had reassured the public on arriving at a consensus on the issue following international outrage over Savita's case.

The Cabinet had finally reached a shaky consensus on the draft earlier today.

The new law would mean that hospitals will have clear, legal guidelines when they considered such requests for an emergency termination.

The historic bill has deeply divided the Kenny government as some Catholic conservatives within his party have vowed to reject the bill.

While the new bill allows for maternal safety, including in cases of a credible threat of suicide, it does not include cases concerning rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities.

However, in cases of suicide, a woman could in effect have six doctors reviewing her application.

Some groups, such as the Centre for Reproductive Rights Europe, have denounced the suicide aspect of the bill.

Although the legislation is expected to pass in the two houses, the Dail and the Seanad, with the support of Sinn Fein and Independents, there will be some backbenchers in the main coalition party, Fine Gael, who will vote against it.

According to Irish media reports, at least 11 women leave the Republic every day for an abortion in Britain.

Under current Irish law, abortion is criminal unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the mother.

The Irish Roman Catholic Church has strongly condemned proposed legislation to liberalise abortion as a move to "licence the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby".

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has welcomed the decision and called on the government to go further, making lawful the termination of pregnancies involving fatal foetal abnormalities.