Irish voters will be called to cast their ballots in a referendum on liberalising Ireland’s abortion laws on May 25, it was announced by the government. They will decide whether or not to repeal the current legislation, the 8th Amendment, which specifies the right to life of the mother and her unborn child.
This makes it one of the most restrictive laws in Europe, with abortion only allowed where there is a risk of death for the mother. If there is a majority, it will be up to the government to draft a new bill, which would likely authorise abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.
Referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment will take place on Friday, 25th May. The people will have their say
— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) March 28, 2018
“Referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment will take place Friday, 25th May. The people will have their say” tweeted the Irish Minister for Health, Simon Harris, on Wednesday.
The NGO Amnesty International praised the announcement of the referendum calling it: “A once-in-a-generation opportunity for Ireland to put in place laws which respect the human rights of women and girls.”
Abortion has always been illegal in Ireland, but its prohibition was only inserted into the Constitution in 1983 after winning 67% of the vote in a referendum. The eighth amendment guarantees the “right to life” of the embryo, taking into account the “equal right to the life of the mother”.
The exception to this ban – the lethal risk to the mother – was added in 2013, shortly after the death of a pregnant woman, following a problematic pregnancy that her doctors had refused to intervene in citing constitutional restraints, causing a wave of public outrage. Nevertheless, rape, incest or malformation of the fetus are not legal grounds for abortion, and such intervention constitutes a crime punishable by fourteen years’ imprisonment.
Two opinion polls published at the end of January suggest that between 51% and 56% of voters support the authorisation of abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, while 30% oppose it, others are undecided.