Relevant Legislation

Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013

As set out above, a termination will be lawful where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. Whether there is such a risk is now determined in accordance with the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 (“the 2013 Act”).

This Act seeks to implement the Supreme Court's decision in the X case by laying down more detailed processes and rules for deciding whether there is a threat to a mother's life that should allow for a termination.

It says that it is a criminal offence to intentionally destroy unborn human life. If a person is found guilty of that offence, the maximum sentence that can be imposed by a court is 14 years imprisonment, a fine, or both. However, a court is free to impose a lesser sentence.

A real and substantial risk to the life of the woman can include a risk of suicide if the conditions set out in the 2013 Act are fulfilled.

The 2013 Act permits medical procedures to be carried out which will result in unborn life being ended. This is allowed where medical practitioners have jointly certified in good faith

  • that there is a real and substantial risk to the life of a pregnant woman, and
  • in their reasonable opinion that risk can only be averted by carrying out that medical procedure. A reasonable opinion means an opinion formed in good faith which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable.

Where the risk to the woman’s life comes from a physical illness, two medical practitioners (one of whom must be an obstetrician) must be of this view.

Where the risk to the woman’s life is a risk of suicide, two psychiatrists and one obstetrician must be of this view.

In an emergency situation, where the risk to the woman’s life comes from a physical illness, a single medical practitioner, who also carries out the procedure which results in the life of the unborn being ended, must

  • believe in good faith that there is an immediate risk to the life of the pregnant woman and
  • have the reasonable opinion that the medical procedure is immediately necessary in order to save the life of the woman. A reasonable opinion in this context also means an opinion formed in good faith which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable.

If a medical practitioner does not certify that there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant woman, the pregnant woman, or a person acting on her behalf, may seek to have this reviewed and overturned by a review committee established by the Health Service Executive. The review committee shall consist of an obstetrician and other medical practitioner in cases of a threat from physical illness and two psychiatrists and an obstetrician in cases of a risk of suicide. This review procedure does not apply in emergency situations.

At least one of the medical practitioners is required to consult with the woman’s general practitioner (if any), provided this is practical. This requirement does not apply in an emergency situation.

No medical practitioner is under a duty to carry out any medical procedure under the 2013 Act to which they have a conscientious objection. For further information click here.

The Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for the Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995

The Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for the Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995 (“the 1995 Act”) governs the circumstances in which information on services relating to the termination of pregnancies in other States can be provided in Ireland.

The 1995 Act applies to information that is likely to be required by a woman to use services outside the State for the termination of pregnancy, and that relates to such services or to the persons who provide them. For further information click here.

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