The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution from 1983 puts the right to life of the unborn on an equal standing with the mother’s right to life and is a hard fought over legal clause. The opponents are mainly the “Pro Choice” campaigners and the group that fights for the keeping of this clause are on the Anti-Abortion side. Interestingly though, that clause doesn’t mention abortion at all and its removal would not automatically mean that abortion is legalised, but as long as it is in the constitution it indirectly makes abortion illegal.
For that reason – and this is the only point the two groups agree on – the Anti-Abortion campaigners are convinced that a change of the Eighth Amendment will open the doors for abortion, something they are determined to fight as hard as possible. The Pro-Choice side also is of the opinion that the change (or removal) of the Eighth Amendment will legalise abortion.
In April 2017, the Citizen Assembly, a group of 99 Irish citizens who had the job to decide about what to do with this clause in the constitution because the political parties were too cowardly to make a decision, voted that the clause should be replaced or amended, but not removed. They further decided that abortion should be regulated in the normal body of law and NOT in the constitution. This was a very sensible approach many think. It is not at all an automatic legalisation of abortion, but removes a clause from the constitution that shouldn’t have never been put in there, because constitutions should be a lot more on a foundation level and not get into details.
The public opinion is very much divided about abortion in general and the two sides are so deeply opposed that no compromise will ever be possible.
A referendum will have to decide what happens with the Eighth Amendment and that referendum will happen in the summer as it seems. Most importantly it will NOT be a referendum about abortion, but only about the future of that clause in the constitution.
Until now it was very unclear what the outcome of the referendum might be. Opinion polls seem to indicate a majority for a form of repeal of the clause, but opinion polls can be very unreliable and since the main politicians hadn’t declared their opinion about it, there were still a LOT of question marks over the decision of their party followers.
It seems however that the tide has turned now! Michael Martin, the leader of Fianna Fail, has changed his opinion and is now in favour of removing the clause and Leo Varadkar, the leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach, has indicated that he also supports the removal of the clause. The opinion of the two party leaders doesn’t mean that the referendum is now more or less decided. The opinions in the public don’t usually swing with the political leaders and they both have made clear that they will not tell their parliamentarians how to decide, but will allow a free vote. On the other hand, though, the clear declaration by both in favour of removing the clause from the constitution is a significant event in the process.
It should be noted for people that are not fully aware of the “Irish solution” to the abortion problem, that the clause never stopped abortion! Instead, women who felt that an an abortion was their only option, travelled to the UK for it. So it was a totally ineffective clause in the constitution!
Please note that the above description focuses on the Eighth Amendment and does NOT discuss the pros and cons of abortion AT ALL, I am also intentionally not taking any sides on abortion it is a MUCH to complex issue for this publication and this section. But I realised in the last six months through questions that people who only came to Ireland in recent years asked me, that the confusion about the Eighth Referendum is HUGE and since it has always been an oddity to me that the constitution covers this one singled out topic while while other very relevant aspect are not considered there, I decided to write about it.
If you asked me, I would be happy to state that it is my opinion that the Eighth Amendment should be removed because I think the laws of a country should deal with all legal issues and abortion belongs in this category.
You disagree? I 100% respect your opinion and I hope you respect mine. The good news for you – if you disagree – is, that I won’t be allowed to vote in the referendum. So don’t worry about me or my opinion. :-)
You can send me your opinion if you feel like it, but don’t expect an answer from me. I am not interested in discussing the pros or cons of abortion!