London: Ireland`s justice minister has described the country`s existing abortion laws as a "great cruelty" which requires women to bear children conceived out of rape or having congenital genetic defects.
Alan Shatter predicted that legislators, fresh from months of debate over the `Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill`, would be forced to face the question again as the Irish public wants wider access to abortion for the most difficult cases.
"I personally believe it is a great cruelty that our law creates a barrier to a woman in circumstances where she has a fatal foetal abnormality being able to have a pregnancy terminated, and that according to Irish law any woman in those circumstances is required to carry a child to full term knowing it has no real prospect of any nature of survival following birth," he said in Dublin on Wednesday, a day after the Pregnancy Bill was passed by the Seanad.
The bill, overwhelmingly passed by both houses of the Irish Parliament this month, permits abortions only in cases where doctors deem the woman`s life at risk from continued pregnancy.
It comes in the wake of the tragic death of 31-year-old Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar on October 28 last year of blood poisoning as a result of a miscarriage.
An inquest into her death earlier this year heard how she was repeatedly denied a potentially life-saving abortion.
"I think it`s unfortunate that this is an issue we cannot address. Clearly many women who find themselves in these circumstances address this issue by taking the plane or the boat to England. Despite what we have been able to do within this legislation, this will continue to be a British solution to an Irish problem," Shatter said.
Speaking at the publication of the Rape Crisis Centre`s annual report, he added: "I think this is an issue on which the general public are a great deal more advanced than perhaps legislators are in their consideration and assessment of what should happen in these particular areas."
Fearing that this issue could not be dealt in its entirety during the lifetime of the current government, he expressed hope that a future government may deem it appropriate to put it to the people.
President Michael D Higgins received the Bill yesterday and has one week to decide whether to sign it into law or refer it to the Supreme Court, the ultimate arbiter of the constitutionality of Ireland`s laws.
The new bill principally would close a decades-old confusion in Ireland`s law dating to 1992, when the Supreme Court ruled that abortions deemed necessary to save a woman`s life must be legal, given her own constitutional right to life.