News Headlines > Abortion Referendum Bill introduced in Ireland's Parliament

09 March 2018 | by Lorna Donlon

Abortion Referendum Bill introduced in Ireland's Parliament

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Voters will be asked if they want to remove the Eighth Amendment to the constitution


The Irish government has introduced a bill in parliament which paves the way for a referendum on the country’s abortion laws, likely to be held at the end of May. Voters will be asked if they want to remove the Eighth Amendment to the constitution, which provides for the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn, and replace it with wording that would allow politicians set the country’s abortion laws in the future.

The bill was introduced by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris who said it is “not just about giving the people of Ireland a say on how they believe we should now proceed," the Irish Times reported. It was about “giving the people of Ireland a say on how Ireland treats women,” he added.

The minister said that even if the Eighth Amendment remained, it would not stop abortion, adding that he did not doubt the sincerity of those people who are opposed to any attempt to remove the Eight Amendment.

Ireland’s Catholic bishops have said that repealing the Eighth “would leave unborn children at the mercy of whatever permissive abortion laws might be introduced in Ireland in the future.” In a statement from their spring meeting earlier this week, the bishops underlined that “today we see more clearly that human life begins at conception” and that the right to life “is not given to us by the Constitution of Ireland or by any law. We have it ‘as of right’.”

At a meeting yesterday, the Cabinet unanimously approved the wording that will be put to the people. Citizens will be asked whether or not the Eight Amendment should be repealed and replaced with new wording to be added to the Constitution, “That provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.” The Government is also publishing a document setting out 21 policy principles, if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

The referendum comes 35 years after the electorate voted in favour of the so-called Eighth Amendment which declares: “The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as is practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” It was adopted following a bitter referendum on the question in 1983, amid concerns that at some future point, a more liberal political or judicial establishment might pave the way for legal abortion.

That constitutional ban was meant to mark the end of the debate: instead, from the 1990s onwards there was a series of deeply divisive controversies on the issue as Irish society became more liberal on issues of sexuality and gender, and the authority of the Catholic Church was damaged by clerical sexual abuse scandals.

The most recent official figures from the UK’s Department of Health show that 3,265 women who gave Republic of Ireland addresses had abortions in England and Wales in 2016. The figure was the lowest since 1980, although there are differing views as to what accounts for the fall.

Now that the government has published the referendum wording, anti and pro repeal groups will accelerate their campaigns. A key factor will be how much the opinion polls reflect the reality of voters’ views. The latest in a series of opinion polls in the Irish Times, in January, indicated that a clear majority of voters say they will back the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and support the introduction of abortion on request up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. The support for this is strongest in urban areas and among women and younger voters.  Over half those questions also said they had “reservations” about the 12-week proposal. However, politicians and activists on both sides of the argument believe that the gap will narrow significantly in the coming weeks.


Pic: (left to right) Government ministers, Charlie Flanagan, Josepha Madigan, Simon Harris, Regina Doherty and Richard Bruton, arrive to address the media at Government Buildings in Dublin, after the the Cabinet met to discuss the next steps in the abortion referendum process.Read less

Picture by: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

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