LONDON — After exhaustive — and exhausting — debate, lawmakers in Ireland approved a controversial bill early Friday spelling out strict rules under which abortions can be performed, the first time that the Roman Catholic nation has enshrined such permission in law.
Legislators voted 127 to 31 in favor of the proposal, which allows an abortion if a woman’s life is at risk.
The lopsided count masked deep divisions in parliament and in Irish society over a bill that supporters said brought clarity to murky guidelines surrounding medically necessary abortions but that opponents warned would lead to terminations on demand.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny marshaled his political forces to guarantee the bill’s passage, including threatening lawmakers from his Fine Gael party with expulsion from its parliamentary caucus if they refused to toe the line. At least one of his ministers defied the order and lost her job as head of the government’s portfolio on European affairs.
The new law delineates the conditions under which doctors would be allowed to end a woman’s pregnancy in order to save her life. In theory, such a procedure was already permissible, but many doctors in Ireland have avoided performing abortions for fear of prosecution because the rules were so vague.