Irish panel begins hearing submissions on new abortion laws

Irish panel begins hearing submissions on new abortion laws

More than two months after an Indian dentist died in Ireland after being refused termination of an unviable pregnancy, a committee set up by the Irish Parliament today began hearing submissions from medical and legal experts along with religious leaders on drafting new abortion laws.

The Republic of Ireland's stringent anti-abortion laws re-ignited protests and debate after 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar died at University Hospital Galway in October, 2012.

The family of the the dentist, who was 17 weeks pregnant, says her death was avoidable as she had asked for an abortion several times before she died. The committee set up by the Irish Parliament began hearing submissions in Dublin today on drafting new abortion laws.

Master of the country's National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, was among a group of experts to make her case in favour of a change in law, stressing that "doctors must be trusted".

Speaking on the opening day of the three-day hearings, Dr Mahony also called for the removal of the 1861 Offences against the Person Act, under which a mother can be jailed for terminating a pregnancy.

Irish Medical Council president Professor Kieran Murphy told the committee that doctors should not allow their personal moral standards to influence their treatment of pregnant women.

"The right of conscientious objection must be balanced against the right of the patient, particularly in the case of a medical emergency," he added. Ireland's Fine Gael-Labour coalition has said it would bring in legislation and regulation on the issue by the middle of this year.

It has set up the Oiraechtas or parliamentary committee, chaired by the ruling centre-right party Fine Gael, to gather information to help the government draft the bill. More than 40 witnesses, including medical and legal experts and religious leaders, will address the committee at the public sessions. Following the consultation, the government is expected to allow a pregnancy to be terminated where there is a risk to the life of a mother as distinct from a risk to her health.