Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore [official website] pledged [official statement] Thursday to bring "legal clarity" to Ireland's abortion laws following the death of Savita Halappanavar [BBC report], a 31-year-old dentist who was denied a potentially life saving abortion. Ireland, a traditionally Catholic nation, has some of the most restrictive [NYT report] abortion laws in Europe. The Irish Constitution [text] recognizes a right to life for the unborn as fundamental from the moment of conception and only permits abortions when a pregnancy jeopardizes the mother's own right to life. The subjective nature of the standard has caused confusion for many doctors and patients, and many hospitals have adopted very conservative policies in an effort to not run afoul of the law. According to Gilmore, Ireland needs to "provide clarity for medical professionals who must make judgment calls on these matters in the real-life situation of a hospital, and must hear the concerns they have about making a decision that may expose them to action if some person disagrees with it." Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE) [official website] released a statement [text] on Wednesday extending its sympathies to Halappanavar's family and confirming a review of her death by the National Incident Management Team (NIMT) was forthcoming.
The death of Halappanavar is the latest controversy surrounding Ireland's abortion laws, and abortion remains a highly divisive [NYT report] issue in Ireland. On Tuesday, the Irish Department of Health received an expert group report [Irish Examiner report] on how Ireland should deal with its abortion laws. The report was commissioned after a 2010 ruling [JURIST report] by the European Court of Human Rights [official website], which stated that Ireland failed to provide "effective and adequate procedures" to allow women to exercise their right to a lawful abortion and that the country's legal situation [BBC backgrounder] constituted a "chilling factor" for both women and doctors. The ruling came after a woman suffered complications when she had to travel from the Irish Republic to the UK in 2005 to seek an abortion.