Ireland Will Have Third Referendum on Abortion

Dublin, Ireland - Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said on Tuesday he planned to hold the country's third referendum in two decades on the issue of abortion.

Critics said they feared the referendum, which would deal with issues left dangling since an Ireland Supreme Court ruling in 1992, may make Ireland's abortion laws, already the most pro-life in Europe, even more ironclad.

The ballot on amending Ireland's abortion laws would be held before a general election due early next summer, Ahern said.

"Abortion is one of the most difficult issues which can ever face a person, both privately and publicly, but just because it is difficult does not mean we can run away from it," he told a news conference in Dublin. "The proposal which we are putting before the people represents what we believe to be a fair reflection of the point of view that while abortion should not be permitted, we must safeguard medical procedures to protect the lives of mothers."

The proposed referendum would put to the voters a constitutional amendment banning abortion, but allowing doctors to perform any medical treatment deemed necessary to protect the life of a pregnant woman. However the threat of suicide would be ruled out as grounds for a legal abortion in Ireland, reversing a 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision in the famous "X case," which concerned a 14-year-old rape victim who sought an abortion in Britain.

The Irish Family Planning Association, which supports abortion, gave "qualified support" to Ahern's proposals, saying they would clear up some legal question marks. But the pro-abortion group also said the referendum underscored "that the boat to England is ultimately the answer to abortion in Ireland." Thousands of Irish women travel to nearby Britain every year to get abortions.

"It is disappointing that he has not shown the political courage to publish an amendment to the constitution which would allow the 6,500 women travelling to the UK each year to have their abortions at home," the organisation said in a statement.

The bill also proposed creating a new government-financed crisis pregnancy agency that Ahern said would offer ``caring, practical intervention'' in hopes of reducing the number of women who travel to Britain for abortions.

Pro-life advocates and Ireland's main opposition party, Fine Gael, gave Ahern's package a guarded welcome. Those seeking pro-abortion laws, including the left-of-center Labor Party, said they were disappointed.

``We welcome the fact there'll be a referendum, and that there's very definite pro-life overtones in the whole package,'' said Des Hanafin, a veteran campaigner against abortion.

Abortions are all but illegal in the Irish Republic, but some complain the current laws are unclear.

The right to life of the unborn child was enshrined in a constitutional amendment passed by referendum in 1983. The 1992 Supreme Court ruling allowed for abortion in certain circumstances when the mother's life was threatened, but confusion remained over when abortion was ethical.

The "X case" led to a further referendum the same year, which made it legal to provide information on abortion services in other countries. The right to information and to travel abroad for abortions would not be affected under the latest proposals from the government, Ahern said.

Abortion divides society in Ireland, where the once Catholic Church, vehemently opposed to abortion, is rapidly losing influence. None of Ireland's major political parties is campaigning for abortion to be made available.

Pro-Life Infonet
02. oktober 2001