Pope Benedict expresses dismay over Ireland changing abortion law in wake of Savita Halappanavar's death

Pope Benedict

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny today weighed into the country's abortion debate to dismiss the Pope's criticism of proposed new laws.

The debate has been re-ignited since Indian origin dentist Savita Halappanavar's death after being denied a termination of an unviable foetus at an Irish hospital in October 2012.

As a parliamentary committee began a second day of hearings in Dublin on the issue today, the Irish PM called for "understanding" after Pope Benedict XVI expressed his "dismay" at the proposed introduction of abortion legislation "in various countries, even those of Christian tradition" at an annual Vatican address on Tuesday.

"What the government is about here is setting in place a framework and a process so that legal certainty will apply to medical personnel who have to make decisions where the life of a mother is threatened, and also to introduce regulations that restrict a move towards abortion on demand, particularly in the case where suicide is involved," Kenny said.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary hearing was told that no time limits should be placed on the availability of the termination of a pregnancy where the woman's life was at risk.

"As a matter of practice, once the pregnancy progresses beyond the stage of viability, every effort should be made to safely deliver the child, unless to do so would place the woman's life at risk," Jennifer Schweppe, lecturer in law at the University of Limerick, said.

The committee is to draw up a report for Minister for Health James Reilly before he and his officials publish draft legislation.

New figures for the number of terminations carried out in Irish maternity hospitals had emerged at yesterday's hearings.

About six pregnancies a year are terminated to save the life of the mother at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, while three such cases occur annually at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, experts told the health committee.

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