THIRTY YEARS AGO today, the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution was passed by the electorate in a referendum.
Article 40.3.3 acknowledged the right to life of the unborn, equating it with the mother’s right to life.
The controversial amendment restricted the country’s abortion regime and was heralded as a victory for pro-life activists but pro-choice campaigners believe it denies women their rights.
Today, two TDs have called for another referendum to ask the Irish people if they would like to remove Article 40.3.3 from the Constitution.
Clare Daly and Joan Collins say they believe it “should be left to a woman to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, without legal or medical interference”.
However, they concede that there are many people in Ireland who think abortion should only be available if pregnancy puts a woman’s health at risk, or in cases of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormality.
In a statement, the pair claimed: “None of these changes can be made while 40.3.3 is in the Constitution. We think that people with different views can all work together by making repeal of 40.3.3 the focus of our campaigning over the coming months and years.”
Figures show that about 150,000 terminations have been sought by Irish women in the UK and other jurisdictions since 1983.
And, according to Collins, at least three women have died because they were denied abortions here. Citing the cases of Sheila Hodgers (1983), Bimbo Onanuga (2010) and Savita Halappanavar (2012), she asked: “Must we have another death before the Dáil acts to protect women’s lives?”
“We now have the most restrictive abortion legislation imaginable,” the People Before Profit TD said. “Women whose lives are threatened by the risk of suicide due to unwanted pregnancy face so many obstacles that they will probably not even ask for an abortion here.”
Ireland has held two referendums on abortion since 1983.
On 25 November 1992, the Government put forward three possible amendments to the Constitution.
The people of Ireland voted to allow for the freedom to travel outside the State for an abortion. The amendment covering the right to obtain or make available information on abortion services abroad was also passed.
The third question on the ballot paper, the Twelfth Amendment, proposed to legislate for legal abortions. However, it said that the risk of suicide was not sufficient grounds to allow for such a legal abortion.
It shall be unlawful to terminate the life of an unborn unless such termination is necessary to save the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother where there is an illness or disorder of the mother giving rise to a real and substantial risk to her life, not being a risk of self-destruction.
This proposal, which would have seen the ruling in the X Case rolled back, was rejected by the electorate.
A similar amendment was put to the public again in 2002. Once more, it was rejected (this time marginally and the turnout at the polls was much smaller than in previous abortion referendums).
More recent developments will see the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 which legislates for the Supreme Court ruling in the so-called X Case. The legislation offers clarity to doctors where a pregnant woman’s life is at risk – from physical illness or because of suicide ideation.
Explainer: What will Ireland’s new abortion law change?