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Abortion debate heats up in Ireland as law revision looms

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But in 1992, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that abortion was permitted if there was "a real and substantial risk" to the life of the mother. This judgment came in the wake of the X Case, when a 14-year-old girl, who was suicidal after becoming pregnant following a rape, was sequestered by the state in order to stop her obtaining an abortion in the UK. She subsequently miscarried.

Despite the ruling, Ireland's abortion ban was never revised to incorporate the court-mandated exception, leaving a legal limbo.

So in 2010, the ECHR, part of the 47-country Council of Europe (as opposed to the EU), ruled that Irish law was unclear on whether abortion is legal if a woman's life is threatened by pregnancy. It also ruled that Ireland must clarify this in line with the amendment in its own Constitution outlawing abortion.

Now, three months later than expected, the "expert group" looks set to announce its findings and make a recommendation on how Ireland should amend its laws – and the war of words is well under way, dividing Ireland along religious and secular lines.

Further complicating matters, Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom, technically outlaws abortions under the same Offenses Against the Person statute dating back to 1861. Despite this, family planning charity Marie Stopes has announced plans to open a clinic in Belfast next Thursday offering medical abortions, sparking outrage from anti-abortion campaigners. British law permitting abortion was never extended to Northern Ireland, but a legal loophole was created by the judgment in the 1938 Bourne case in England, allowing abortions if a doctor agrees the pregnant woman is at immediate risk or if there is a long-term or permanent risk to her physical or mental health.

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