Floodgates in the Irish debate on abortion

In the aftermath of the death of Savita Halappanavar, anti-abortion campaigners in Ireland have deployed, either implicitly or expressly, numerous floodgate arguments in an effort to sway public opinion and halt the government’s plans to finally legislate for the X case.

In their submission to the Joint Committee on Health and Children in January, Berry Kiely and Caroline Simons of the Pro-Life Campaign argued that codifying in law provisions for the treatment of suicidal pregnant women would inevitably lead to widely available abortion. This has been a common refrain ever since the X case judgement was handed down more than 20 years ago. Pro-Life campaigners would have us believe that legislation similar to what the X case judgement requires was enacted in the United Kingdom in the form of the Abortion Act 1967. That law, apparently, inadvertently led to a situation where women could easily obtain abortions. However, even the most cursory look at section 1(1) of the law in question shows that it bears little resemblance to the restrictive bill proposed by the Irish government. The ’67 Act allowed abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, threats to the life of the mother and where two doctors had agreed that “continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk… of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family” before the 24th week of pregnancy.

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