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Abortion Law Vote Polarizes Ireland

  • Henry Ridgwell

Lawmakers in Ireland have voted for the first time to allow abortions under certain conditions. The issue has polarized the predominantly Catholic country.

After marathon debates this week in parliament, lawmakers voted 127 to 31 to allow abortions when a woman's life is in danger. The decision follows months of debate. Campaigners on both sides had staged 24-hour vigils outside parliament.

"The only procedures allowed in this bill are procedures which will result in the death of an unborn baby and with no indication that this is going to have any role to play in saving a woman's life," explained Caroline Simons, legal adviser to the 'pro-life' campaign that opposes the change.

Declan Meena supported the measure titled the 'Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.'

"I think it's just important that our side of the argument is here," Meena said. "I also just feel like, like a lot of our society... I just need to be here in solidarity with the women who deserve this."

Despite the passionate debate, most Irish people think the issue is not black and white, said Mark Hennessy, London editor of the Irish Times.

"The majority of Irish people have come to the conclusion, at least on this narrow issue, that we're dealing with grey and that it will never be anything other than grey and we're going to have to deal with it accordingly," Hennessy said.

The bill will allow an abortion only when a woman's life is in danger or if she is suicidal. Supporters of the law change say previously doctors were unclear if and when they could terminate a pregnancy.

Last October Savita Halappananvar, an Indian dentist living in Ireland, died of septicaemia a week after miscarrying 17 weeks into her pregnancy. Her husband says repeated requests for an abortion were rejected by hospital authorities.

There was a global backlash - especially in India. Among the most prominent critics was Ranjana Kumari, President of the organization Women Power Connect in India.

"This is totally unacceptable," Kumari said. "I think Ireland, just like in any other European country, has to change its law, to give human rights over a body to women. This will not work."

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