Explainer: The Eighth Amendment

By Cáit Caden

With the upcoming vote is difficult to determine what way the referendum is going to go.

A referendum will be held on whether to keep or repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution on Friday the 25th of May 2018, as announced by Eoghan Murphy, Minister for Housing and Local Government.

The Amendment which was introduced by referendum vote in 1983, is Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and states: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

“She died as a consequence of the Eighth Amendment,” said Professor Peter Boylan, former master at Holles Street hospital, told ‘pro-life’ TD Mattie McGrath when discussing the death of Savita Halappanavar.

Savita died from a septic miscarriage in Galway University Hospital in 2012 as an abortion was a healthcare option which could not be made available to her under Irish legislation.

Savita’s case is one of many cases where Ireland’s attitude towards abortion has by proxy damaged the health or caused the death of women. High-profile examples include that of Amanda Mellet, Anne Lovett and the infamous X Case.

“Unrestricted abortion has nothing to do with healthcare. It has nothing to do with saving lives and everything to do with ending the lives of babies in their mother’s womb,” commented Cora Sherlock, a spokesperson of the LoveBoth Project which campaigns for a no vote.

Many believe it protects the voiceless life of the unborn which is equal to that of the mother and that a repeal would advocate abortion.

“I think if you view the being that is inside the mother’s body as a human that you can’t say that abortion is alright,” said Hugh Farrell, a journalism student in DCU who will be voting no on May 25th.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland except in circumstances where the mother’s life is at risk under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act which was implemented in the wake of Savita’s death.

This Act requires a panel of experts to examine the woman first before an abortion is carried out. If there is no immediate risk to a woman’s life, the person who carried out the abortion as well as the person who underwent one is subject to prosecution.

The United Nations publicly recognises Ireland’s abortion laws violate women’s human rights.

“It has taken 35 years, seven governments, a European Court of Human Rights ruling, the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar and the suffering of countless other women and girls,
Ireland being repeatedly hauled before the UN, a massive civil society campaign, a Citizen’s Assembly and a special Joint Oireachtas Committee to get us to this referendum,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

Abortion is as present in Irish society today as it was when Mamie Cadden was performing backstreet abortions during the 1950’s. Thousands of women currently travel oversees form Ireland every year to seek an abortion while others that need a pregnancy termination order dangerous abortion pills online.

A repeal would make safe and legal abortions available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy with no reason required. It will also be available if there is a risk to the health or life of the woman and where there is a fatal foetal abnormality.

Simon Harris, Minister for Health confirmed there will be a 72 hour pause period from the time a woman asks for an abortion until the time she will receive it within that 12 weeks if Ireland votes yes to a repeal.

“I’m voting yes for everyone in Ireland that has the capacity to get pregnant that they are treated in their own country with the compassionate healthcare we all deserve,” said Alesi Horan, Chair of DCU Amnesty Society and spokesperson for DCU Students for Choice.

By Cáit Caden

Image Credit: Mari Foody