Ireland will hold a landmark referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment resulting in abortion laws being clarified on Friday 25 May 2018.
It is interesting to watch the numerous men in both the national and international press debating over, how or what, women should think or decide when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. A decision for which they will never directly be faced. We saw similar behaviour in April, across the water in the USA, during Trump signing the executive anti-abortion order surrounded by only men determining the reproductive rights of women.
So what are these men arguing about?
The current law in Ireland is that abortion is a criminal offence under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (1861 Act). While abortion is illegal in Ireland the 8th amendment (article 40.3.3) created a constitutional protection for a foetal right to life:
“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”
There has been little clarity surrounding the true meaning of “equal right to life” or “as far as practicable”, due to the absence of legislation. The amendment has generally been understood to mean that abortion is only permissible when there is a risk to the life of the pregnant person.
This causes great confusion and fear to the medical professionals who may face custodial sentences due to these vague terms. It would be hard to forget the 2012 case of Savita Halappanavar’s, where a life-saving termination was denied while a foetal heartbeat could be detected after the commencement of miscarriage at 17 weeks. She died six days later of, an inquest found, sepsis, e-coli and miscarriage. That medical professional believing she complied with the law was named and shamed in the international press. A tragic end for both doctor and patient.
The United Nations criticised Ireland’s stance on abortion as recently as last month, saying:
“The Committee reiterates its previous concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in the State party owing to article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and its strict interpretation by the State party”
Mary Higgins raised the issue of health care for women in Ireland, currently curtailed by the Eighth Amendment. The law as stands now means pregnant mothers with fatal foetal abnormalities are “planning a birth as well as a funeral”
Having worked as a Barrister in care cases, both in Ireland and the United Kingdom one has the luxurious position of experiencing what is really happening on the ground and what the great work professionals are doing to stay a float with the voluminous number of children currently in need of care. Some parents are unable or unwilling to care for their childrenor unwanted children.
Abortion in Ireland is a reality. Pretending this is not the case, places both a women’s health and lives in danger. On average nine women travel abroad each day to access abortion and three women take abortion pills daily. None of whom may seek medical attention for fear of receiving a custodial sentence.
If Ireland votes yes to repealing the 8th Amendment what does that mean?
The Irish Government has published a policy paper outlining how it intends to legislate, in the event of repeal. The general scheme is available at https://health.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/General-Scheme-for-Publication.pdf
Where do the Irish political parties stand?
Each member of all political parties have freedom of conscience on the issue of abortion, meaning each member can vote in accordance with their own view. Senior Ministers will be bound to reach an official Cabinet position but can campaign on either side of the argument during the campaign.
Hilary specialises in international family, criminal, extradition and human rights. Hilary is instructed to bring cases on behalf of individuals before the European Court of Human Rights most recently against Ireland. She speaks French, Spanish and Irish. Hilary is a highly experienced family practitioner across three jurisdictions. She covers all areas of family law. She is regularly instructed in international child abduction, child relocation and international jurisdictional issues (habitual residence) before the High Court most recently involving Syria, Libya, South Africa, India, Tanzania and Australia.