Irish Citizens Assembly votes to amend abortion laws

Pro-choice campaigners disappointed by vote to amend, rather than repeal, Eighth Amendment

Niamh McIntyre
Saturday 22 April 2017 18:08 BST
Campaigners stage a protest to demand more liberal abortion laws in Dublin
Campaigners stage a protest to demand more liberal abortion laws in Dublin (Reuters)

A special committee set up to discuss Irish abortion laws has voted in favour of changing the constitutional clause which effectively criminalises abortion – but stopped short of repealing the law entirely.

The Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution protects the “right to life of the unborn”, and termination is illegal in Ireland in all but the most exceptional circumstances, where there is a “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life.

The campaign to reform Ireland’s abortion laws has been gathering steam, which are most restrictive of any country in Europe, and the Irish government agreed last year to consult on the future of the Eighth Amendment.

99 members of the public were randomly chosen to take part in the Citizens’ Assembly, which has been meeting regularly to discuss abortion in Ireland since October last year, and will make a formal recommendation to the Irish government on the legislation.

Today, the Assembly voted in a series of ballots to amend, rather than repeal, the Eighth Amendment.

The first ballot asked the Assembly whether the Irish government should retain the Amendment in its current form, which was overwhelmingly voted down, by 79 votes to 12.

However, the members of the committee also overwhelmingly recommended that there should be a referendum on Irish abortion laws.

However, in a later round of voting, on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment entirely, the Assembly voted 50 to 39 in favour of the option to amend, with two of the 91 citizens abstaining.

Pro-choice campaigners reacted with disappointment that the Assembly would not recommend that the government repeal the law entirely.

The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign said: We are disappointed that after six months of deliberations – which included the heartfelt testimony of women forced to travel for abortions – that the Citizens' Assembly has opted against recommending the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

"However, we are heartened that 87 per cent of members did vote for some form of constitutional change – proving the majority believe the Eighth is not fit for purpose.

"Since the Assembly first sat in November, 1600 women have travelled from Ireland to Britain for terminations.

"It remains to be seen what final recommendations will come from this process. But the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign urges the Citizens' Assembly to keep these women in mind, when casting further votes.

"We are concerned that assembly members have not been given an opportunity to vote on a woman's right to reproductive autonomy. An exception based framework which allows abortion only in certain cases such as in cases of rape, will ensure the continued exportation of our women to Britain and further afield.”

Others have expressed concern that the wording of the ballots were prejudicial to the process.

Colm O’Gorman, Director of Amnesty In Ireland, tweeted that he was “gravely concerned last session has introduced and inflated uncertainty [regarding the] repeal option at this stage before critical vote”.

The next round of voting will ask: How do you think Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution should be changed?

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