Ireland Repeals Eighth Amendment, Clearing Path for Legal Abortion

Legislative protection for the unborn was officially rescinded Sept. 18.

The office of the Taoiseach in Dublin
The office of the Taoiseach in Dublin (photo: Daniel M Bradley / Shutterstock.com)

DUBLIN — The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which provided legal protection for the unborn, was officially repealed Sept. 18. The repeal was enacted when President Michael Higgins signed the country’s 36th Amendment into law, clearing the way for legal abortion in Ireland.

The removal of the Eighth Amendment follows the decisive result of the national referendum held in May. Only one county, Donegal, voted to keep the amendment. Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

While it has not yet been determined under what circumstances abortion will become legal, the government is proposing that it be allowed throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Legislation to this effect will be introduced by the government next month.

It is unknown when Ireland’s first abortion facility will open, but Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this will likely be by 2019.

The Church vocally opposed the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, and many of Ireland’s hospitals are either run by the Church or have historically been administered by religious orders. Varadkar has said that Catholic hospitals will not be permitted to opt out of performing abortions, making further conflict between the Church and the pro-abortion movement likely.

At the same time, a majority of doctors are not willing to participate in abortions. Despite 66% of Irish voters favoring the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, surveys show that roughly 7 out of 10 general practitioners in Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions. This means that doctors may have to be flown in from other countries, or a list of willing doctors will be circulated among the public.

Ruth Cullen, representative for Ireland’s Pro Life Campaign, said in a statement on the campaign website that while Tuesday was “a day to remember all the lives saved by the Eighth Amendment,” it was “also a sad day for human rights, as a vital life-saving human-rights provision of the Constitution has been removed.”

Abortion, said Cullen, “is far from progressive and compassionate, as those who campaigned for repeal claim it will be.” She is “confident” that Ireland will eventually come to regret the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and realize the country “opened the door to the greatest injustice and discrimination of our time.”

Bishop Peter Chung Soon-Taick.

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