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Ireland Enacts Law Providing For Abortion, A First

Ireland now has its first law making abortion legal in the country under specific conditions, after President Michael D. Higgins signed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 into law Tuesday.

The legislation provides women with access to abortion in cases where their lives are at risk, including medical emergencies and cases in which suicide could be a factor.

The issue caused intense debate in Ireland's legislature, where several amendments sought to alter its terms. None of those amendments were adopted, reports Irish news site The Journal.

Before he signed the bill, Higgins convened a rare meeting of the Council of State, a step that allows Ireland's chief executive to confer with a wide range of advisors over whether a bill should be signed into law or be sent to the country's Supreme Court to determine its legality.

The 21 persons who attended, including seven members of the judiciary, still made it the biggest council since the Constitution came into effect in 1937.

Higgins' signing of the bill means that a constitutional challenge to the new law could still emerge in the future, reports the Global Herald.

The legislation comes after an incident last fall, when as The Irish Times' John Waters says, "a woman died in hospital in Galway as a result, it was said, of a failure to give her an abortion when she requested one and when this would've saved her life."

That incident, which came to be known as the Halappanavar case after the late Savita Halappanavar, "caused a huge controversy which drew attention to the lack of clarity in the law and most politicians preferred not to have to deal with," Waters told NPR's Rachel Martin on Weekend Edition Sunday.

As Rachel notes, the controversial suicide clause means that "it's not enough for a woman to just say, I don't want to have this child, it's causing me emotional distress. The woman actually needs to say, 'I may kill myself.'"

The new law is being enacted more than 20 years after the landmark "X Case," in which Ireland's Supreme Court ruled that women could have access to abortions when their life is in danger. But with no laws reflecting that view, women were forced to travel outside Ireland for the procedure.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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