Ireland will act "speedily" to implement legislation providing limited access to abortion if an expert group's recommendation is accepted by the Cabinet, a minister has said, amid the raging controversy over the death of an Indian dentist.
The expert group set up to examine how the state deals with the issue of lawful abortions has favoured legislation allowing for the limited provision of abortion along with regulations to deal with practical matters, according to media reports.
Minister for public expenditure and reform Brendan Howlin insisted the Coalition would not be the seventh administration to fail to act on the 1992 Supreme Court judgment on the X case. The X case is a landmark Irish Supreme Court case which established the right of Irish women to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide.
The remarks by the minister come amid the controversy over the death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar from blood poisoning at the Galway University Hospital on October 28 after doctors allegedly refused to perform an abortion stating "this is a Catholic country".
The expert group's report will be discussed by Cabinet tomorrow.
"We have an expert group now to tell us in very considered detail how that is to be done and I have no doubt that this Government will act very speedily in a measured, calm way to provide for that instruction from Supreme Court," Howlin said, speaking on Ireland's state broadcaster RTE.
He said he hoped a "calm, considered, comprehensive" debate would begin in the Dail (Parliament) next week, "and very speedily thereafter the Government will come to its own decisions in terms of drafting legislation and presenting that to the Oireachtas (Parliament)".
The expert group has said legislation for the limited provision of abortion is required to make the state compliant with the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the A,B and C cases.
The A,B and C cases are a landmark cases of the European Court of Human Rights on the right to privacy. It held there is no right for women to an abortion, although it found that Ireland had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to provide an accessible and effective procedure by which a woman can have established whether she qualifies for a legal abortion under current Irish law.
The report by the expert group, chaired by Justice Sean Ryan, offers a number of options but legislation and regulations are the preferred choice. It says the Minister for Health should identify at which medical centres an abortion can take place.
The report also calls for the establishment of an appeals process for women who have been refused an abortion to seek a review of the decision.
It suggests terminations on the fringes of viability should take place in medical centres with neonatal care units and be conducted to maximise the changes of foetal survival.
The report reiterates that a woman is only lawfully entitled to an abortion in this state when there is a real and substantial risk to her life and when termination is the only way to avert this risk. Included among the risks is the risk of suicide.
Sinn Fein, a left wing Irish republican political party, Leader Gerry Adams called for the expert group's report to be published.
He said it was not a surprise that "the expert group has a preference for primary legislation (over guidelines or regulations)."
"There does need to be a discussion in the Oireachtas on the report but this cannot be used as an excuse to further delay the introduction of legislation," he added.