Ireland passes historic law allowing limited abortion rights for the first time

Church handed a rare defeat, but legislation only covers severely limited number of cases

Ireland Correspondent

Ireland has a new abortion law designed to dispel decades of ambiguity, but passage of the law has involved months of turbulence, late sittings and unseemly parliamentary behaviour.

The legislation, which came into being after many bruising exchanges and highly divisive debate, arrived with a distinct lack of dignity. Many of its supporters greeted it not with celebration but with relief.

As a result, a landmark piece of Irish legislation will be remembered by some for episodes such as “Lapgate”.

This was the televised early-morning moment in parliament when a government backbencher pulled a female colleague on to his lap. The backbencher apologised and was reprimanded  by his party, but women’s groups and others have held it up as an example of the sexism that survives in Irish politics.

The marathon parliamentary sessions will also be remembered for the Speaker telling representatives that his head hurt “after listening to you lot shouting and roaring across the chamber”. The prolonged exchanges taxed both politicians and the Irish public.

But the new legislation will actually affect only a small proportion of Irish women who seek abortions, for example on medical grounds or in cases where suicide is regarded as a danger.

“It is the very, very bare minimum of a Bill, but at the same time it feels like the end of an era,” said Eleanor White, 21, one of a handful of pro-abortion rights activists gathered outside parliament – outnumbered by opponents of the Bill. “We are getting to the end of the role the Catholic Church has had in Ireland,” she said.

Standing nearby, anti-abortion activists prayed and cheered deputies who opposed the Bill as they left the building. “This is a terrible crime on the heart and soul of this nation,” said Rita Daly, a 56-year-old civil servant, holding a picture of an aborted foetus. “This is the intentional killing of our children, our flesh and blood.”

The new law is expected to have little effect on the “abortion trail” – the steady flow of women travelling to clinics in Britain. The latest figures show that last year almost 4,000 went to England and Wales for abortions.

The traditional Irish opposition to abortion was shattered last year when Savita Halappanavar died in a Galway hospital when she was denied an abortion after miscarrying.

Shock at Ms Halappanavar’s death, and a European judgement criticising Irish law for a lack of clarity, galvanised the government into bringing forward the legislation. In previous abortion controversies the Catholic church and dedicated pro-life groups have prevailed against attempts at legal reform, but this time both public and political opinion was strongly in favour of change.

The vote, which was 127 to 31 in favour, was in line with opinion polls showing that more than 70 per cent thought the law should be relaxed.

The church now faces a rearguard battle, with bishops saying they intend to mount a legal challenge. But the tide of opinion is clearly running strongly against the church, certainly in terms of obeying its direction in this matter.

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has a strong personal faith but has heavily criticised the church for failing to act in matters of clerical child abuse. During the abortion debates he insisted he was “a public representative, who happens to be a Catholic, but not a Catholic Taoiseach.”

In this case he found himself leading a campaign against the church’s position, ending with a potentially historic setback for the institution.

Video: Irish MP apologises for inappropriate behaviour during abortion debate

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice