What is the Abortion Threat to Ireland?

The Eighth Amendment — Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution — guarantees a high degree of protection for unborn children. The English text reads as follows:

“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 far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

In recent years, there have been moves to repeal the Eighth Amendment as it remains an obstacle to those advocating the further liberalisation of abortion law in Ireland.

Advocates of Eighth Amendment repeal:

Following a report by a so-called ‘Citizens’ Assembly’*, in the summer of 2017, a majority of members of the ruling Fine Gael party, appeared to be in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. Although, Fianna Fáil members voted overwhelmingly, in their Ard Fheis, against removing ‘the Eighth’, a campaign to repeal it had the support of the other political parties in the Dáil, including Labour, Sinn Féin and the Green Party. Sinn Fein, at their November 2017 Ard Fheis, asserted their opposition to the criminalisation of women who have an abortion, effectively supporting British-style ‘abortion on demand’ throughout Ireland, North and South.

‘Repeal the Eighth’ is also supported by a number of so-called ‘human rights’ and ‘pro-choice’ groups including, most vigorously, Amnesty International. Many academics and members of the medical profession also advocate repeal. Pro-Life / human rights groups, and Church leaders, have pointed out that the secular media are clearly acting as advocates for change concerning the Eighth Amendment and supporting the liberalisation of abortion.

Opposition to Eighth Amendment repeal:

All pro-life groups and all Catholic Church leaders strongly oppose a referendum on repeal of the Eighth Amendment. The majority of non-Catholic Christian churches also oppose repeal.

Public opinion:

According to an Ipsos MRBI poll published in March 2017, up to 77 per cent, then, believed abortion should be legal.

“Where pregnancy is a result of rape, incest or child abuse, 77 per cent of respondents say that abortion should be legal. Just 7 per cent believe it should be illegal in these circumstances, plus 10 per cent who say it should be illegal in all circumstances. Where the foetus will not survive outside the womb, 76 per cent say that abortion should be legal.”

Irish Times report — 3rd March, 2017

Pro-Life advocates are extremely cautious regarding the accuracy of polls on life and family issues in Ireland.

Citizens’ Assembly

In June 2016, the Minister for Health stated his support for a referendum on repealing the Eighth. In July, of that year, the Government appointed a Supreme Court judge as chair of a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ to consider a number of topics, the most important of which was the Eighth Amendment. In October 2016, the Citizens’ Assembly met for the first time. Pro-Life / human rights advocates said that the process had not been brought about by popular citizen concern, but by activist pressure groups from within Ireland and abroad, including the Irish secular media. They believe that it was an affront to human rights that the Citizens’ Assembly, or any citizens group, government body or individual, should have been given the right to decide on matters concerning the life and death of others. They further believe that any referendum that would make recommendations, by majority vote, on the fate of others, is also an affront to human rights. In addition, they believe that the Citizens’ Assembly did not accurately represent Irish citizens’ opinion.

Vulnerable unborn children at risk

At first, the main argument proposed by advocates of change concerned life-limiting conditions of unborn children, commonly labelled ‘fatal foetal abnormalities’. These so-called ‘hard cases’ were presented as an undue burden on mothers, who may experience difficult diagnoses. In addition, pro-abortion groups cited rape and incest as issues to be considered in their advocacy for change. The subsequent Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment recommended that abortion should be made available ‘without restriction up to 12 weeks’ of pregnancy, and in a variety of other circumstances, including where the physical or mental health of the mother is deemed to be at risk.