Many onlookers – both in and outside the Emerald Isle – could be forgiven for thinking they had somehow wandered into a time warp. It’s been 21 years since the X Case sparked a fierce debate on abortion in Ireland. Órla Ryan looks at how precious little h

Defying its natural and expected tendency to be green, Ireland sits as a lone red spec on this particular map.

Flanked by the pale blue depths of the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea, our little country provides a shameful global centrepiece.

The World Abortion Laws map indicates which nations have legalised abortion and to what extent. Red indicates that abortion is prohibited outrightly or allowed if the mother’s life is deemed at risk.

Irish law on the subject, or rather the lack thereof, is less progressive than similar legislation in many developing countries, including India – birthplace of Savita Halappanavar.

Her tragic death last year re-ignited one of the most schism-inducing debates in Ireland.

Mrs Halappanavar (31) was 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying when she attended Galway University Hospital on October 21.

Her husband Praveen claims they were told "this is a Catholic country” and refused a termination due to the presence of a foetal heartbeat.

An official investigation has found that an abortion had the potential to save her life.

“When you peel the layer, there are extremely conservative cultural practices that continue [in this country],” notes gender equality expert Dr Nata Duvvury.

“Ireland has exported its problems to the UK,” she adds. Approximately 4,000 women travel from Ireland to the UK for a termination each year.

In January, the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children held three days of hearings on abortion. The Government is due to announce plans for legislation in the near future – however confusion remains supreme as to whether or not a suicide risk clause will be incorporated.

“We also have a rampant epidemic of mental illness which is not recognised [in the abortion debate],” maintains Dr Duvvury.

The women's rights activistlectures in NUI Galway’s School of Political Science & Sociology and approaches the abortion argument from a developmental angle – namely the impact it has on women’s health and maternal mortality, poverty and population control.

At the UN-organised International Conference on Population and Development in Egypt in 1994, 179 governments signed a commitment to prevent unsafe abortions. Since then over 25 of these countries have liberated abortion laws, while a handful have tightened legal restrictions. 

In developing countries, a woman dies as a result of an unsafe abortion every eight minutes – this accounts for 13pc of maternal mortality deaths globally. Approximately 68,000 such procedures are carried out annually. 

A woman’s bodily autonomy is something we often take for granted in the western world.

“Abortion is actually code for a much larger discussion on women’s empowerment,” states Dr Duvvury.

Research in India has shown that many impoverished women who have their ‘tubes tied’ as a result of medical advice view the process as one which enables them, possibly secretly, to end the patriarchal control their partners often exercise over their bodies.

Abortion isn’t the only reproduction-related area which exits in a legislative vacuum in Ireland.

Recently the genetic parents of twins born to a surrogate won their landmark High Court case to have the biological mother legally recognised as such.

During the case, Mr Justice Abbott rejected submissions by the State that the pro-life Constitutional amendment confirmed the birth mother as the legal mother.

Scientific and medical developments have long since overtaken their legal counterparts here.

This fact was further emphasised by the media coverage garnered by a feature on Today FM’s Ray D’Arcy Show last week.

Mr D’Arcy condemned the State for failing to legislate on issues surrounding IVF treatment – something the UK did in 1990. “I think on this occasion the law is an ass,” he said.

The host made the comments following an emotional interview with a listener who told him she had wanted to use her late husband’s sperm to conceive, but was informed it would be destroyed.

The sperm was stored in the Human Assisted Reproduction Ireland Clinic in Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital since the man was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and advised he may be unable to have children following treatment.

Upon making his donation, he had to sign a contract that stated his sperm would be destroyed if he died.

Following a public outcry, managers at the clinic agreed to meet the woman in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Another listener rang in and told a very similar story, but with an ending that did lead to their destruction of her late husband’s sperm and, with it, her dreams of a child.

HARI’s Ray Skelly appeared on a later edition on the programme and admitted the current legal situation is a “dog’s dinner”.

He stated that posthumous sperm use should be possible in certain cases and legislation needs to be put in place in order to “reflect the changes in Irish society”.

Recommendations on the subject from 2005 have never been acted on.

The area of reproductive rights is obviously an extremely sensitive one, but the failure of successive governments to implement any form of legislative framework is shameful and indicative of the reactive, not proactive, stance taken by so many of our public representatives.

Our red light may not turn green any time soon, but it should at least start flashing amber – on a number of lanes.

The aforementioned abortion map can be viewed at www.worldabortionlaws.com. Global abortion rates are available here: www.infoplease.com.