New abortion laws 'historic moment'

New laws allowing abortion in Ireland under certain circumstances have been hailed as a historic day for human rights in the country.

But the pro-life movement has warned it is mobilised and will step up its fight against the legislation, quietly passed into law by the stroke of a pen by President Michael D Higgins today.

The head of state - who yesterday consulted for four hours with his advisory panel of mostly former premiers and judges, the Council of State - had the option of sending the legislation before the Supreme Court.

But, instead, he decided there were no constitutional problems, and issued a statement from Aras an Uachtarain at midday confirming he had signed off on the controversial Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

The new laws will provide for a woman's right to an abortion in Ireland if her life is at risk, including - most contentiously - from suicide.

Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Irish Labour Party, described it as a milestone and a historic moment, particularly for the women of Ireland.

"The core purpose of this legislation is about saving women's lives," he said.

"It is about providing for a very basic human right.

"It has been a long time coming."

The legislation was drawn up amid a public outcry over the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who died in an Irish hospital in October last year.

She had been denied an abortion as she miscarried 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

Her widower, Praveen, claimed the couple had been told a termination was not allowed because "Ireland is a Catholic country".

In 1992, Dublin's Supreme Court delivered a judgment, known as the X case, ruling that abortion should be allowed if there was a threat to the mother's life, including suicide.

The case involved a 14-year-old rape victim who became pregnant and was refused permission by the Irish authorities to travel to the UK for an abortion.

Ireland was also under pressure after a European Court of Human Rights ruling that a woman in remission with cancer was discriminated against because she was forced to travel overseas for a termination.

The Pro Life Campaign said the enactment of the new abortion laws was a very sad day for the country and warned the Fine Gael/Labour coalition government it would come back to haunt them at the next general election.

Caroline Simons, spokeswoman for the group, criticised Taoiseach Enda Kenny and branded the legislation life-ending rather than life-saving.

"The Government brought forward this law in the full knowledge that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal feelings and ignored all the peer-reviewed evidence showing that abortion has adverse mental health consequences for women," she said.

"This is a very sad day for our country.

"For the first time in our history, it is now legal to deliberately target the life of an innocent human being."

Ms Simons warned the Pro Life Campaign will be devoting its energies to the repeal of the law.

"We will give very careful consideration in the coming weeks to the best way to bring this about," she added.

"The pro-life movement is mobilised and growing.

"We have seen the biggest ever gatherings of pro-life people in recent weeks.

"The passage of this bill into law marks a new beginning not an end for pro-life activism."

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