Referendum on the 8th Amendment: What are we voting on?

It’s important to understand exactly what you’re being asked to vote on before entering the polling booth

Written by Hannah Byrne


On 25 May 2018, Irish citizens will be entering the polling booth to vote in a referendum to decide if we should remove the 8th Amendment from our constitution. 

A change to the constitution can only be made by referendum. It is not possible to add or remove anything from the constitution without a vote of the people. Learn more about referendums here.

What is the 8th Amendment?

The 8th Amendment is the common term for Article 40.3.3. of Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Constitution of Ireland. Article 40.3.3. gives the foetus equal right to life to the person who is pregnant. 

This means that it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland except where the pregnant person’s life is in real and substantial danger, including if they are at risk of suicide, and the only way to avoid this risk is by terminating the pregnancy.

Since the 8th Amendment was introduced in 1983, there have been further referendums and court rulings around the Amendment, which led to the introduction of legislation in 2013, called the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. You can find out more about other referendums and the legislation here.

However, this is the first time in 35 years that Irish people will be asked if they want the 8th Amendment in the constitution.

Learn more about the 8th Amendment here.

What would replace the 8th Amendment if it were removed?

On May 25th, you will be asked if you want to delete Article 30.3.3. (the 8th Amendment) from the constitution, and replace it with this line:

“Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy ”

Those who agree that the 8th Amendment should be removed and replaced with the above line will vote YES.

Those who disagree with removing the 8th Amendment from the constitution, and want to keep things as they are, will vote NO.

This is what the ballot paper will look like. Image source: Referendum Commission (

What does a Yes vote mean?

A Yes vote would allow the government to make laws allowing access to abortion in Ireland. These laws would not be limited to circumstances where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant person, as they are now because of the 8th Amendment.

Voting Yes does not mean abortion will immediately become legal in Ireland. It will simply allow the government to make laws determining the circumstances in which abortion would be legal in Ireland. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 will remain in force until new legislation is enacted.

What does a No vote mean?

A No vote would mean that Article 40.3.3. (the 8th Amendment) would remain in the constitution. There would be no change to the law as it currently stands. If any new laws were passed, they could only allow for abortion in circumstances where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant person.

What would happen next if the majority vote Yes?

If the majority of people vote Yes and the 8th Amendment is repealed, the law as it currently stands will still remain. This includes the laws surrounding access to information and travel.

The current laws will only be changed after new laws are passed, or if the current law is declared invalid by the courts.

What laws are the Government proposing?

The Government have suggested that new laws would allow for medically-regulated abortion in the following circumstances:

  • Between 0-12 weeks (as measured from the first day of the pregnant person’s period), a person can access abortion without needing to have a specific reason, subject to one doctor’s certification and a three day waiting period
  • Between 12 weeks and viability (the point where a baby might be able to survive outside the womb), abortion will only be available where there is a risk to life of the pregnant person, a risk of serious harm to health, or if there is a diagnosis of ‘fatal foetal anomaly’. In those cases, abortion will only be allowed if the reasons are certified by two doctors, at least one of which must be an obstetrician.
  • After the stage of viability, abortion will only be allowed in cases of fatal foetal anomaly. Otherwise the appropriate procedure to end a pregnancy would be delivery.

This law would not allow for termination on the grounds of disability. 

There are also plans to improve sex education and access to contraception in order to reduce the need for abortion.

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