The Irish government announced Tuesday that it will legalize abortion in cases that threaten the life of the mother, including cases in which the mother’s pregnancy causes her to be suicidal.
The Cabinet of Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny decided to repeal legislation that criminalizes abortion, and also to lay out legal guidelines for doctors to perform abortions on at-risk mothers.
The decision comes in the wake of massive international outcry over the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian national who died in an Irish hospital in October when doctors denied her an abortion. Doctors reportedly told her, “This is a Catholic country.”
For Kenny, the issue has been a political nightmare for weeks.
Kenny, the leader of the center-right Fine Gael Party, won the 2011 elections with a fiscally conservative platform in the aftermath of the disastrous Dublin bank bailout, which plunged the nation into economic devastation.
However, Kenny only managed to unseat the centrist and bueracratic Fianna Fail party, which had held the majority for 27 years, when he brokered a last-minute coalition with Labour.
Since taking office, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has been a thorn in Kenny’s side, taking advantage of Labour’s historically rare role in government by frequently vying for power within the coalition. It was Gilmore who, in November 2011, announced that Ireland would close its embassy in the Vatican.
Gilmore’s public lobbying to clarify the legality of abortion in Ireland, in the aftermath of Halappanavar’s death, was seen to have weakened Kenny’s political clout on budget issues.
Gilmore complained last month that Kenny’s government would be Ireland’s seventh in a row to ignore abortion issues. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, a Labour Party member, recently identified himself as pro-choice.
Ireland will assume the six-month presidency of the European Union in January, adding more pressure on Kenny to compromise on social issues for the sake of his international reputation.
Fine Gael leaders urged Kenny Monday, prior to the announcement, to only lay out for the public a “road map” for the new policy, without getting into specific plans. Fine Gael leaders also expressed concern about the provision legalizing abortion by suicidal mothers.