Abortion Referendum in Ireland - The Facts


October 2012, Savita Halappanavar an Indian-Irish dentist was admitted to University Hospital in Galway due to some pregnancy complications, and had a miscarriage.  The life of 31 year old doctor was at risk due to infection while her family pleaded for a termination of pregnancy. But the hospital staff refused to do so saying that there was still foetal heartbeat and Irish law of nation prohibits abortion in almost all cases. The lady died at a very young age, but her death became a catalyst for groundbreaking social change in Ireland. On Friday 25th May 2018, people in the Republic of Ireland voted to remove the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution that effectively banned abortion in the Republic of Ireland. Here are the facts of abortion referendum.

The Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment was inserted into the Constitution after a referendum in 1983. The amendment guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother. It prohibits abortion in almost all cases. It states: “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.”

The 13th and 14th amendments

The 13th and 14th amendments were introduced in 1992. The 13th specified that the prohibition on abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the State. The 14th stated that the prohibition would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services overseas.

The Citizens’ Assembly

The Citizens’ Assembly is a body established by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny to examine a range of issues including the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. After months of hearings, it recommended abortions should be provided in a range of circumstances including when a mother’s physical or mental health is at risk, and in the cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities. It also proposed abortion could be provided when a foetal abnormality is identified, or on socio-economic grounds. Forty-eight percent said there should be no restriction on abortion up to 12 weeks gestation,  44 per cent favored no restriction up to 22 weeks.

The Oireachtas Committee

The 21-strong Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment was tasked with examining the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly. It voted by 14 to 6 in favor of repeal. It accepted the majority of the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations, but voted against allowing terminations when a non-fatal foetal abnormality is identified, or for socio-economic reasons. It proposed allowing terminations without restriction up to 12 weeks of the pregnancy and when a mother’s life, health or mental health is at risk. The committee stated compassion should be shown in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and recommended abortions be decriminalized.

The X Case

The X Case was the case of a girl who was raped by a man known to her. She sought a termination in the UK but the then Attorney General sought an injunction preventing her from travelling. She appealed the decision and the Supreme Court found in her favour.It called on the Government to legislate to allow for terminations when a mother’s life was at risk,including a risk to her life from the possibility of suicide.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act legislated for the outcome of the X case. It allowed for abortions when a mother’s life is at risk, including by suicide. In a case of a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life arising from a physical health condition, an obstetrician/gynecologist and a second relevant specialist must jointly agree and certify that the termination of pregnancy is the only treatment that will save the mother’s life.

Vote on Referendum

On 25th may2018, Ireland has voted for amendment of constitution, a total of 3.2 million electorate has taken part with a 66.4% yes and 33.6% no to repeal the eighth amendment of its constitution which since 1983 has effectively prohibited abortion in all bar exceptional circumstances.

The New Legislation

The proposed legislation will allow abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to the 24th week in exceptional circumstances. According to the Irish Prime Minister the new law will be in place by end of 2018.