The country has been ordered to reform complex abortion laws after European judges ruled that a ban violated the rights of a woman who feared a cancer relapse during an unplanned pregnancy.
The woman was being treated for a rare form of the disease and was forced to travel to the UK in 2005 for a termination because of fears that she or the unborn child would fall seriously ill.
Known only as 'C' the woman, a Lithuanian, said she could not get clear advice in Ireland and the country's limited ban stigmatised and humiliated her and put her health at risk.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Government failed to give domestic courts clear direction on when abortion is legal. Despite the ruling, Health Minister Mary Harney suggested the country would not be thrown into a contentious fourth referendum, 27 years after the first. "I don't want to pretend that there is an easy solution. We have to legislate, there's no doubt about that," she said.
No deadline for enforcing new abortion laws has been set by the Strasbourg court.
Susan McKay, chief executive of the National Women's Council of Ireland, accused the Government of putting up a shameful defence of broken Irish law.
"The Government tried to claim that its cowardly position was based on profound moral values. This was a shameful defence. How can forcing women with life-threatening illnesses to go abroad for a medical procedure be moral?" Ms McKay asked. "The decision to have an abortion is not a happy one or one that can be lightly taken but there are circumstances in which it is necessary."
As it stands, a woman is allowed an abortion if her life is at risk from high blood pressure, an ectopic pregnancy or cervical cancer. The issue of suicide and other health complications are not set down in law. Two other women, known only as A and B, who also claimed a violation of rights over the abortion ban had their cases dismissed.
The court criticised the Government for leaving judges with a lack of clear information on lawful abortion. And it said there had been no explanation why the existing constitutional right to abortion, due to real and substantial risk to the life of the expectant mother, had not been implemented.
Later, in a statement the Government said it will examine the judgment carefully and consider what steps are required to implement it.