Ireland's ban on abortion led to the death of Savita Halappanavar an inquest found
Proposed new legislation won't change Ireland's general ban on abortion, Prime Minister Enda Kenny said Wednesday, but is about "saving lives" when pregnant women are in danger.
Ireland's government published the proposed measure late Tuesday to clarify what happens when there's a threat to the mother's life, including a risk of suicide.
The government wants the legislation, the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013, to become law before the summer recess at the end of July.
Kenny, Ireland's Taoiseach or prime minister, acknowledged in a speech how contentious the proposal may be in the majority Roman Catholic country.
"This is an issue that has been very divisive and contentious for over 30 years," he said. "It's also an issue that is complex and sensitive, about which many Irish people have sincere and strongly held views.
"We are a compassionate people. This is about women, it is about saving lives -- the life of the mother and the life of the unborn."
The government's aim, Kenny said, "is to protect the lives of women and their unborn babies by clarifying the circumstances in which doctors can intervene where a woman's life is at risk."
At the same time, he said, the bill "restates the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland."
The draft bill seeks to bring the country's legislation into line with a Supreme Court judgment two decades ago that it is legal to end a pregnancy when there is a risk to the life of the mother.
Ireland has also had to look again at its abortion legislation because of its obligations under European human rights law.
Presentation of the draft law follows calls for change from some quarters after the death last October in Galway of an Indian-born dentist who was denied an abortion while miscarrying.
The coroner at an inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar this month recommended that authorities lay out exactly when doctors can intervene to save the life of a mother.
Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister, or Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore pointed out Wednesday that a small number of pregnant women do find themselves in the awful situation where their life is in danger.
"Women have a right to know, that if the worst happens, they will be able to have life-saving treatment," he said.
"For years, they have been denied that right: the simple right of knowing that, in the final analysis, their doctor can act to save their life. And the doctors who treat them, also need to know where they stand if they act to save a mother's life.
"Yesterday, the government made a decision that that right will now be vindicated."
The government says its proposed bill sets out a "clear legal framework" for women and medical practitioners in Ireland.
"It will provide legal clarity for the medical profession of the circumstances where a medical termination is permissible where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of a woman as a result of a pregnancy," a press statement said.
Under the draft legislation, when the threat is not from suicide, two doctors must jointly certify that there is a "real and substantial risk" of the loss of the pregnant woman's life, and that they believe abortion is the only way to avert that risk.
One of the doctors must be an obstetrician or gynecologist, and at least one of the two should consult with the woman's own doctor where possible.
When the risk to the pregnant woman's life is from suicide, the assessment must be made by an obstetrician or gynecologist and two psychiatrists.
The legislation also makes clear that it is not an offense for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy in the case of a medical emergency if there is an immediate threat to the pregnant woman's life.
The procedure must be carried out by a registered medical practitioner at an appropriate location, the draft text states.
The final decision on whether to carry out the abortion will always be made by the pregnant woman, it adds.
The bill must still undergo detailed discussion and debate by lawmakers before it can become law.
Journalist Peter Taggart contributed to this report.