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Tuesday 3 October 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# Abortion
'You want the Eighth repealed because of Brexit': Letters sent to Varadkar about abortion referendum
This year the country voted by 66.4% to 33.6% to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

IRELAND VOTED TO repeal the Eighth Amendment in May of this year.

The amendment, which gave equal status to the life of the mother and the life of the unborn, was added to the Constitution in 1983. Some people had been campaigning for its removal from Bunreacht na hÉireann since then, while others fiercely defended it.

The country voted by 66.4% to 33.6% to remove the amendment, with over two million votes cast. 

More than 170,000 women and girls have travelled from Ireland to another country for an abortion since 1980, with the vast majority going to Britain.

Over 3,000 women travelled to the England and Wales for abortions last year, while many others bought abortion pills online. Abortion services are expected to begin in Ireland in January.

In the lead up to, and aftermath of, the referendum on 25 May there was a heated debate as to whether or not the amendment should be repealed. 

Many members of the public contacted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the issue.

A selection of the emails and letters sent to Varadkar from March to June were released to under the Freedom of Information Act 2014. The majority of the correspondence was sent from people who were in favour of retaining the amendment.

A number of the emails and letters were similar, asking what protections the unborn would have if the Eighth Amendment was repealed. Some people also questioned why 12 weeks was chosen as the time limit for abortion in the vast majority of cases.


One person claimed the government was “not interested in the unborn child”, instead more concerned about the impact Brexit could have on women and girls travelling to the UK for terminations. 

“It’s more possible that their biggest fear is what to do when Irish women can no longer travel to England for an abortion after Brexit. This is more likely the driving force behind removing the 8th amendment,” they wrote. 

‘Trivialising sex’

In one letter, a person listed a number of issues that occurred to them in relation to the referendum. One of the points said: “The ending of life at any stage from conception to being on a life-support machine should be a momentous decision not to be based on convenience or fashion.”

Another point stated that repealing the Eighth Amendment “would trivialise sex even further”, adding: “Instead of being fundamentally about procreation it would become a recreational activity sanctioned by the state.”

5 points april

Towards the end of the letter, the person wrote: “Decisions to change the Constitution should not be left open to the possibility of slender margins determining the outcome. In all issues such a change should be 66/33 or at least 60/40 and should require a turnout of over 50% of the electorate.”

As mentioned above, people voted by 66.4% to 33.6% to remove the amendment, with more than two million votes cast. At 64.5%, the turnout was one of the highest ever recorded for a referendum in this country and the highest of any referendum since 1992.

Posters near schools 

One person wrote to Varadkar about their concerns regarding referendum posters being displayed near schools. 

They wrote: “As we are all aware a referendum is approaching. This is a highly emotional topic for the yes and no sides. Here is my problem.

“Primary school pupils cannot vote … Yet as I pass towns and villages up and down my fair isle the anti-repeal posters are unavoidable at schools in particular. These carry emotive images and distressing wording.”

The person said if the same images or words were shown to children in a classroom, gardaí and Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) would be “rightly” contacted.

sanity apr

“If these posters were films they would not receive a G or PG cert. Why is it ok for them to be placed any and everywhere? … Please interject some sanity,” they wrote. 


congrats may

When the amendment was repealed, a number of people got in touch with Varadkar to congratulate him and the government on the referendum passing, as did a number of people who expressed their sadness at the result. One person wrote: 

I’m British, not Irish, but I wanted to congratulate you and your country for a useful, humane and civilised step forwards in yesterday’s referendum.

Another person said they were “saddened by the outcome of the referendum as I believed that the 8th Amendment gave both mother and the baby the equality of the protection of both lives”, adding: “At the same time, I understand the cases that are simply difficult to judge as medically they are very complicated.”

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