London: Irish lawmakers on Friday overwhelmingly backed a groundbreaking law that would allow abortion in limited cases in the predominantly Catholic country, following an outcry over the tragic death of an Indian dentist after a miscarriage in 2012.
After days of debate and delays, Ireland`s lower house Dail passed the legislation by a 127-31 vote allowing limited abortion rights.
The bill authorises a termination when doctors deem that a woman`s life is at risk, including in some cases of a suicide threat.
The bill had been drafted by the Irish government in the wake of the tragic death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, who was denied a potentially life-saving abortion when she was found to be miscarrying.
The 31-year-old died at Galway University Hospital last October of blood poisoning and subsequent medical reviews indicated that Ireland`s ambiguous anti-abortion laws needed to be clarified.
The case re-ignited debate on the issue and has revealed deep divisions in the Catholic nation, with the parliamentary vote going on for a marathon two days.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and his coalition government pushed through the bill despite threats of excommunication from cardinals and bishops.
The bill now needs an Upper House endorsement but pro-choice and anti-abortion groups have already threatened court cases to challenge the new law.
They argue that the legislation will allow intentional killing of the unborn for the first time in Republic of Ireland.
Calling it not just a religious issue but also a human rights one, the campaigners insist the mother and foetus have equal rights to life in any pregnancy.
Others have argued that the bill is too limited as it does not allow for terminations in cases of rape or incest, or when there is a foetal abnormality.
According to figures released by the Irish department of health yesterday, about 4,000 Irish women travelled to British hospitals and clinics to terminate their pregnancies last year.
Since a Supreme Court ruling in 1992, known as the X case, abortion has been constitutionally available when a woman`s life, as distinct from her health, is at risk from the continued pregnancy.
X was a suicidal 14-year-old schoolgirl who had been raped by a neighbour and was initially prevented from leaving the country for an abortion in Britain.
Since then, the credible threat of suicide is, constitutionally, regarded as grounds for a termination.
But in the intervening years, no government has introduced legislation to give doctors legal certainty on when an abortion can be carried out.
The same uncertainty formed the backdrop of Halappanavar`s death as the inquest heard how her repeated pleas for an abortion were denied by medics who said Ireland was a "Catholic country".
The Fine Gael-Labour coalition government says its legislation will bring the law and constitution in line.