DUBLIN // Ireland's government unveiled a long-awaited bill yesterday that lays down new rules explaining when life-saving abortions can be performed.
Enda Kenny, the prime minister, said after his government published the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, he hoped the coming weeks of debate would not turn bitter. But he warned Catholic conservatives within his own party that they must back the bill or be expelled.
"I do hope that we can bring everybody with us, on an issue that I know is sensitive," said Mr Kenny, who stressed that his two-year-old government was seeking no change to abortion law, only "a clarification of rights within existing law". He said the law would emphasise that anyone involved in an illegal abortion, whether doctor or patient, could face a maximum 14 years in prison.
Mr Kenny's government took action following the death of 31-year-old Indian woman Savita Halappanavar last year from blood poisoning after she was refused a termination because her dying foetus still had a heartbeat.
Anti-abortion activists, including many in Mr Kenny's Fine Gael party, warn that the proposed law could become a platform for eventual wider access to abortion in Ireland, one of only two European Union countries that still bans it, alongside Malta.
They particularly oppose the bill's provision that grants abortions to women who threaten to kill themselves if they are denied a termination. The bill specifies that three doctors - the woman's obstetrician and two psychologists - must determine that the suicide risk is substantial. If denied, the woman would have a right of appeal to a panel of three other doctors.
The bill, published after weeks of government infighting on its terms, faces lengthy debate and likely amendment in the parliament's Health and Children Committee. Mr Kenny wants it passed by July.