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For the first time in Ireland's history, abortion is now legal in cases where it can save a woman's life.
LONDON, United Kingdom — Ireland’s parliament has passed a landmark law that will allow limited abortion in the Catholic country for the first time.
Lawmakers in the Dáil, Ireland’s parliament, voted in the early morning hours Friday to legalize abortions in cases when one could save a woman’s life.
After long and contentious debate that saw bishops threatening to ex-communicate lawmakers who voted in favor of the law, Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s coalition government pushed the bill through by a vote of 127 to 31, according to RTE News.
Ireland’s Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton voted against Kenny on the bill and was asked to resign from the Cabinet, which she did.
“It is automatically assumed that if you consult your conscience, you are essentially consulting with Rome,” Creighton said in a July 1 speech against the abortion bill. “This is not just a Catholic issue, any more than it is a Protestant or Muslim issue. This is not a religious issue. It is a human rights issue.”
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The debate was inspired in part by the October death of Savita Halappanaver, a 31-year-old woman who died of infection in a Galway hospital when doctors refused to abort her dying fetus.
Though Ireland's constitution states that a pregnant woman has the same right to life as her unborn child, until now no government had enacted legislation to ensure that doctors could protect that right by performing an abortion. In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland must reform its laws to make explicit whether there were circumstances in which abortion would be legal.
While champions of the medical-exemption law celebrated on Friday, both pro-choice and anti-abortion groups said they planned to challenge it in court.
“Even if this law is enacted, only a very, very small percentage of women who need abortions will be able to access them in Ireland,” said Mara Clarke, director of the London-based Abortion Support Network, in the Guardian.
“Women pregnant as result of rape, women with fatal fetal anomalies, couples who simply can't afford to care for a — or in most cases, another — child, will still be left behind.”
Some 4,000 women traveled from Ireland to England or Wales to seek a private abortion in 2012, according to figures released Thursday by the UK Department of Health. Overall, the UK saw the lowest numbers of foreign women seeking abortions last year than at any time since 1969.