Abortion In Ireland: Change Is On The Horizon After Committee Recommends Unrestricting Access

On Saturday the Citizens’ Assembly voted 87% in favour of advising the Irish Government to change the the eighth amendment on right to life

Abortion In Ireland: Change Is On The Horizon After Committee Recommends Unrestricting Access

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Over the weekend there was, finally, some good news for women in Ireland when it comes to their abortion rights which signals that change could be on the horizon. The Citizen’s Assembly, a public forum which advises the Irish Government, has voted in favour orunrestricting access to abortion.

On Saturday, the Citizen’s Assembly voted in favour of having no restrictions on abortion in Ireland. Members voted against repealing the Eight Amendment entirely, which campaigners have been pushing for. However, they did support some change such as allowing abortion when rape or fatal foetal abnormalities are involved.

While women have been able to access free, safe and legal abortions in England, Wales and Scotland since the 1967 Abortion Act, our neighbours in Ireland and Northern Ireland do not have the same right.

This is because Ireland is subject to different laws to us. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which came into force in 1983 after a referendum, gives explicit recognition of the right to life of an unborn child and effectively serves as a constitutional ban on abortion throughout the country. In Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, the 1967 Act does not apply. Instead, women in Northern are subject to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act and the Criminal Justice Act of 1945. In Northern Ireland abortions are permitted in very limited circumstances and since 2014 in Ireland, a pregnancy can be terminated under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, only if there is a risk to the woman’s life, including suicide.

High profile campaigns have been being fought on both sides of the Irish border in tandem to repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland and extend the 1967 Act in Northern Ireland. In Ireland campaigns, have focussed on allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality at a minimum. A case that stuck in the minds of many was that of 31-year-old dentist Savita Halappanavar who dies on 28 October 2012 at the University Hospital in Galway, Ireland, as a result of complications of a septic miscarriage at 17 weeks after being denied an abortion by her doctor. Her tragic story and preventable death was heavily publicised, but it speaks to the reality faced by women across the country.

Speaking to The Debrief, Lisa Kavanagh of the Irish Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) said: ‘this has been a challenging process and difficult to watch for many affected by our laws. However, no-one can deny, looking back at proceedings over the last 2 days, that the members of the Citizens’ Assembly have voted overwhelmingly for choice and change. The members have voted not to put grounds for abortion access in the constitution, and have made very strong recommendations as to the type of access they expect to see introduced.’

However, she pointed out that white the ARC does not ‘advocate for gestational limits because they become a barrier to the most vulnerable access services’ this nonetheless ‘looks to be a huge step forward for abortion access in Ireland’.

Katherine O’Brien, Head of Policy Research at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, told The Debrief ‘this is a hugely significant vote which calls for Ireland’s abortion law to be not just reformed but revolutionised. The restrictive framework around abortion has long lagged behind the views of the general public, as the Citizens’ Assembly has now made abundantly clear.’

‘Politicians have for too long ignored the desperate need for abortion reform. Due to their shameful inaction, thousands of women from Ireland are forced travel to England for abortion care every year at a huge personal and financial cost. We urge politicians to act on the report’s recommendations as a matter of urgency and work to bring Ireland’s abortion law into the twenty-first century’, she added.

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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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