Public outrage following the death of a 31-year-old pregnant woman, who was denied a life-saving abortion, has motivated the Irish government to propose a new law to clarify when an abortion can be performed to save a mother's life.

The controversial Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill has been referred to the Parliament's health committee and is also being scrutinized by legal, medical, and political groups outside Parliament. The bill follows a 1992 judgment by the Irish Supreme Court that states women must be able to obtain abortions if their life is threatened by their continued pregnancy.

The government was moved to act as a result of public outrage over the death of a 31-year-old dentist, Savita Halappanavar, in October. Four months pregnant, Halappanavar died of blood poisoning after hospital officials refused to abort the fetus that she had begun to miscarry, saying that they could still detect a heartbeat.

An inquest into her death last month revealed that her two requests for termination - recorded in statements from medical staff and given to gardaí, but unrecorded in her medical notes - were turned down on the grounds that Ireland is a "Catholic country." Protests following her death were staged in Dublin and London.

Anticipating a political battle, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny warned members of his party that he expected them to vote for the measure, even if they disagreed with it. "Conscientious objection doesn't absolve people from responsibility," he told reporters.

Kenny said he wants the legislation to become law before summer recess at the end of July.

Although Ireland has long permitted abortions in order to save a woman's life, doctors often avoided doing so for fear of being prosecuted, especially since rules remained ambiguous.

The new measure would authorize an abortion if two doctors agree that a continued pregnancy poses a "real and substantial" risk to a woman's life. In an immediately life-threatening situation, one doctor would be allowed to act alone. Most controversially, in a situation where an expectant mother says she will commit suicide over an unwanted pregnancy, three doctors would have to certify the threat is genuine. This supports the 1992 Supreme Court ruling wherein judges defined a credible suicide threat as one reasonable ground to permit abortion. The ruling was made in the case of a 14-year-old girl who was raped by a family friend and threatened to kill herself if forced to give birth.

In the United States, 784,507 legal induced abortions were reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2009. It is unknown how many of these terminations were intended to save the mother's life.