It was announced on Monday, 29th January, that the government is to hold a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment of the constitution, which gives equal right to life to both mother and foetus, and therefore bans legal abortions in Ireland except where the pregnant person’s life is in danger, including at risk of suicide.
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, along with cabinet colleagues Simon Harris (Minister for Health) and Katherine Zappone (Minister for Children), made the announcement late last night that a referendum is to be held in late May, giving Irish people the chance to vote on the Amendment for the first time in 35 years. The last time Irish citizens voted on the 8th Amendment was when it was introduced by a referendum held in 1983.
The referendum would allow for the removal of the 8th Amendment from the constitution, and the introduction of an ‘enabling clause’ which would allow the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion in Ireland – something they are restricted in doing now because of the 8th Amendment.
In his statement, the Taoiseach said “we already have abortion in Ireland but it is unsafe, unregulated and unlawful. We cannot continue to export our problems and import our solutions”
Protesters at Dublin March for Choice 2012. Photo: iStock.com/Sebastian Kaczorowski
Previous abortion referendums in Ireland
Two other referendums on abortion have been held since the introduction of the 8th Amendment in 1983. The first was in 1992, and successfully guaranteed the right to learn about and travel for legal abortions in other countries. The second was in 2002, in which voters rejected a proposal to ban abortions including in cases where a pregnant person’s life was threatened by suicide.
Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment
The Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment is an alliance of over 100 organisations in Ireland, including human rights, NGOs, health, and community organisations, who support the repeal of the 8th Amendment.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, welcomed the Cabinet’s decision, stating that “this is a momentous point in our campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment.”
For more information on the Coalition, visit www.repealeight.ie
Main image: iStock.com/Sebastian Kaczorowski