The Government has pledged to publish new abortion laws in July.
As it stands in current medical practice, doctors must treat an expectant mother and her unborn baby as equals.
This constitutional protection for the unborn child places a ban on abortion, but allows medical intervention to save the life of a woman in limited circumstances.
Doctors currently work under a combination of the law and guidelines set by the Irish Medical Council (IMC).
The IMC direction states that where rare complications arise during the care of a pregnant woman, a termination may be required at a stage where there is little or no hope of a baby surviving.
In such circumstances, doctors are allowed to intervene to terminate the pregnancy in a bid to save the mother’s life, while still making every effort to save the baby.
Abortion has been legal in cases where there is a substantial risk to the mother’s life since the 1992 Supreme Court ruling on the so-called X Case.
The ruling included a provision to allow abortion when there is a threat of suicide after a teenage rape victim asked the courts for permission to travel for an abortion.
Despite the court’s decision more than 20 years ago, successive governments have failed to enact legislation to give the ruling full effect – until the current coalition.
The Department of Health announced its intention to introduce a combination of legislation and regulations for doctors to abide by in cases where there may be uncertainty.
Its decision came on the back of an expert group report on a separate court ruling – a European Court of Human Rights ruling on how to respond to the so-called ABC case.
In that judgment, the European court found the state violated the rights of a woman in remission from cancer who was forced to travel abroad to terminate her pregnancy.
The legislation and regulations to be published this July will reflect both court rulings.
The new regime will provide clear procedures that will enable pregnant women to determine whether they are entitled to a lawful abortion.
The statutory framework will also provide a defence for doctors from criminal prosecution.
The reforms will not make abortion freely available in Ireland for purely social or personal reasons.