DUBLIN, Ireland - Leaders unveiled a long-awaited bill Wednesday that lays down new rules governing when lifesaving abortions can be performed, a point of potentially lethal confusion for women in a country that outlaws terminations.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny, speaking to reporters after his government published the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, said he hoped the coming weeks of debate would not turn bitter. But he warned Catholic conservatives within his own party to back the bill or be expelled.
"I do hope that we can bring everybody with us, on an issue that I know is sensitive," said Kenny, who said his government was seeking only "a clarification of rights within existing law."
Kenny said the bill would set a maximum 14-year prison sentence for anyone involved in an illegal abortion, whether doctor or patient. The current law, dating to 1861, sets the maximum penalty at life.
Kenny's government took action following the death of a woman last year from blood poisoning after she was refused a termination because her dying fetus still had a heartbeat.
The bill, if passed, would change nothing for the vast majority of an estimated 4,000 Irish women who travel annually for abortions in England, nor the growing number who order miscarriage-inducing drugs over the Internet.
Antiabortion activists, including many in Kenny's own Fine Gael party, protest that the proposed law could become a platform for eventual wider access to abortion in Ireland. Malta is the only other European Union country that bans it.
Activists particularly oppose the bill's provisions for women who threaten to kill themselves if they are denied a termination. The bill specifies that three doctors - the woman's obstetrician and two psychologists - must determine that the suicide risk is substantial. If denied, the woman would have a right of appeal to a panel of three other doctors.