Republic of Ireland news

Irish government to introduce abortion referendum bill after landmark court ruling

A referendum on the Republic's abortion laws is to be held in May
Michelle Devane, Press Association

A landmark Supreme Court ruling on the rights of the unborn will allow the Dublin government to press ahead with a planned abortion referendum, Health Minister Simon Harris has said.

In a tweet the minister said: "Now we can get on with allowing the people of Ireland have their say in a referendum this May. I will now bring the Referendum Bill to Cabinet."

Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone said the court's ruling had provided clarity.


The Supreme Court today unanimously ruled that protections for the unborn child offered under the state's constitution do not extend beyond the right to life. 

Supreme Court judges had considered whether unborn children are entitled to further rights under other sections of the constitution.

They ruled that the rights were confined to the provisions of the Eighth Amendment.

Ireland's Chief Justice Frank Clarke told the Supreme Court in Limerick:

"The present constitutional rights for the unborn are confined to the right to life guaranteed in article 40.3.3 (the Eighth Amendment)."

If the Supreme Court had found the rights extended beyond the amendment, the referendum might have needed to be broadened to take in other elements of the constitution.

That could have delayed the timetable for holding the vote.

Fine Gael party colleague Senator Catherine Noone said she welcomed the clear and unanimous Supreme Court decision regarding the rights of the unborn.

Ms Noone chaired the all-party parliamentary committee on the Eighth Amendment, which recommended the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution be repealed.

Currently, terminations are only allowed in the Republic when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

Campaigners are seeking to liberalise the regime to allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

If the referendum goes ahead, voters will be asked whether they want to remove the section of the Constitution which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, and replace it with wording to allow parliament to regulate for the termination of pregnancy.

Senator Noone said: "Today the Supreme Court made a landmark decision.

"This judgment will allow us to move forward to a May referendum on the 8th Amendment".

She added: "It is my belief that the only rights afforded to the unborn under the current constitutional status, is the right to life provided for in the Eighth Amendment and this does not extend to other areas of the constitution.

"I urge us all to accept the Court's judgment in good faith and move forward in a civilised and respectful manner, as has been the case for the most part so far".

Labour Party TD Jan O'Sullivan said she welcomed the clarity provided by the ruling.

Ms O'Sullivan said: "The decision paves the way for the Oireachtas to debate with clarity the wording of the proposed Government referendum, which is coming before the Dail this week.

"I look forward to engaging in the debate with my Oireachtas colleagues, and would again call on the Government to ensure it keeps to its timetable of a May referendum on the Eighth Amendment so that the maximum number of people will be available to vote on the issue, many for the first time."

The government in January formally agreed to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

The move came after the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment published its report recommending repeal of Article 40.3.3, which recognises the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn.

The report stated that Constitutional provision prohibiting the termination of pregnancy in Ireland was unfit for purpose and in need of reform.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he welcomed the unanimous ruling. "[It] offers real clarity, and paves the way for a referendum on the 8th Amendment in May," he said.

"We look forward to seeing the Government's legislation later this week, and to the debate in the Dail on Friday."

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