Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the government wants to bring the country in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision, The Irish Times reported. The court ruled in what is known as the A, B and C case that a woman whose cancer was in remission should not have been forced to travel abroad to terminate her pregnancy.
A special commission in a recent report suggested either new guidelines, regulations or changes in the law.
The death of Savita Halappanavar, who went into labor in October 17 weeks into her pregnancy, has also caused an uproar. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, says doctors at Galway University Hospital advised them there was no chance for the fetus to survive but that they could not terminate the pregnancy as long as there was a detectable heartbeat.
One of the most controversial proposals is to allow abortions not only when pregnant women are at risk from physical illness but when doctors believe they are at risk of suicide if they continue pregnancies. This would bring the law into line with an Irish court decision 20 years ago in the X Case.
Ireland's four Catholic Archbishops in a statement urged Kenny to allow members of Parliament a free vote on abortion.
"If what is being proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed," the archbishops said.
In 1983, as many other countries were legalizing abortion, the Irish Constitution was amended to recognize the right to life of unborn children. Since then, 143,000 women have traveled to England and Wales for abortions and unknown numbers to Scotland, the Times said.
A coalition of abortion-rights groups released a statement saying the proposed changes "should only be considered a first step towards liberalizing abortion laws in Ireland."