The ICCL has been a long-standing voice seeking reform of Art 40.3.3 of the Constitution which was inserted by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution following a referendum in 1983. We consider that a referendum on the Eighth Amendment is an opportunity to bring the Constitution into line with prevailing social values around pregnant women’s medical care. Such reforms, we believe, would be entirely consistent with the evolution of social and ethical attitudes over the last number of decades, including with respect to issues such as contraception, divorce and marriage equality. We know that public opinion polls and research consistently demonstrate increased support for access to abortion in Ireland, including favourable inclinations by respondents towards repeal of the Eighth Amendment, sometimes by up to three quarters of participants.
In the vast majority of countries in the world, access to abortion services is a normal, accepted, de-stigmatised part of a functioning health care system. It is a service which is available to women within defined legal and medical frameworks. Pathways to provide abortion services are set out for midwives, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. They care for pregnant women patients without fear of prosecution and in the best interests for her health and safety. At present in Ireland, establishing legal, policy and medical frameworks around best practice in the provision of maternity and abortion services is not possible. In order to achieve this, removal of the Eighth Amendment is necessary.
Ireland is one of a smattering of countries which places restrictions on access to abortions services within the Constitution. As we know from the cases which have come before our courts and into the public arena, those restrictions have huge consequences for women and families in Ireland. The absolute rigidity of the Article 40.3.3 vis-à-vis the provision of access to abortion in Ireland means that Ireland has been found consistently to violate women’s human rights, including by the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee. Several international human rights bodies have called upon the State to take the necessary steps towards constitutional reform and just this year, the State received 17 separate recommendations on abortion law reform by members of the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review process.
The ICCL submission to the Citizens Assembly is designed to explain the constitutional and human rights considerations which should underpin any abortion law reform. It covers the following areas: current legal framework; the European Convention on Human Rights; international human rights; decriminalisation; conscientious objection and the future legal framework. Some recommendations are included also.
It is the considered view of the ICCL that this current process and the prospect of abortion law reform represents an opportunity for Ireland to move beyond the bare minimum human rights requirements identified by the European Court on Human Rights and by UN Committees. The Assembly, the Oireachtas and the people of Ireland now have the opportunity to pursue improvements in Ireland’s human rights record and the ICCL strongly urges it to do so.
The ICCL Submission to the Citizens Assembly can be read in full here.