Landmark ruling allows Irish Government to progress abortion referendum plans


A landmark Supreme Court ruling on the rights of the unborn will allow the Irish Government to press ahead with a planned abortion referendum, Health Minister Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris said it was right and proper the Government waited to consider and finalise the wording of the referendum until the court had made its ruling.

"If you believe there needs to be change in this area in this country you need to repeal the Eighth Amendment, if you believe that it is wrong that a woman who is brutally raped and has to carry her pregnancy to full term in this country, you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment," the Irish minister said.

"If you believe it is wrong that a woman who has a fatal foetal abnormality in her pregnancy finds herself having to travel to Britain and bring back her baby's remains in the boot of her car, you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment."

Mr Harris made the comments outside Government Buildings in Dublin following the ruling.

He said the bill would be introduced into the Dail as soon as possible with the intention of formally establishing a referendum commission in the coming days.

"I would appeal to all political parties and groupings in the Dail to facilitate the passage of this referendum bill so the people of Ireland can finally have their say on this important, sensitive and substantive matter," Mr Harris said.

Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone said the court's ruling had provided clarity.

She tweeted: "I welcome the clarity offered by today's Supreme Court decision and look forward to continuing the process of putting the 8th amendment before the Irish people by way of referendum."

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan added: "I welcome the clarity that this Supreme Court judgment provides regarding the status of the unborn within the constitution.

"In relation to the implications for the status of potential deportees from the state with regard to their family status; this is a detailed and comprehensive judgment, and my Department, along with others will analyse it fully."

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said the ruling was "profoundly disturbing", adding: "It has demonstrated with absolute clarity that the Eighth Amendment is now the only defence that the unborn child has against the arbitrary decisions of politicians to extent the grounds upon which an abortion may be obtained."

In light of that, he said the stakes could not be higher in terms of the need to retain the Eighth Amendment.

Mr McGrath added the ruling may one day be seen as the Irish Roe v Wade, the US Supreme Court case in 1973 that made elective abortions legal in the US.

He said: "While I do not believe that the Eighth Amendment will be repealed regardless of today's decision, I do think that if the governments hostile, manipulative and aggressively pro-choice agenda is successfully perpetrated upon the people, then today may one be seen as the Irish equivalent of Roe V Wade."

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the judgment clears the way to advance the referendum.

Ms McDonald said she understood the Taoiseach waiting for legal clarity before advancing legislation but that now matters had been clarified there was no reason for further delay.

"The Eighth amendment represents a real and ongoing threat to the health and lives of Irish women," she said. "Our recent history is marked with so many tragic episodes of that hard reality. It has to go.

"The Eighth Amendment is a relic of an Ireland of the past, yet it restricts the rights of women in the here and now and profoundly affects our welfare.

"It should not have been introduced into the Constitution in the first place."

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone said she welcomed the clear and unanimous Supreme Court decision regarding the rights of the unborn.

Ms Noone chaired the all-party parliamentary committee on the Eighth Amendment, which recommended the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution be repealed.

Currently, terminations are only allowed in the Irish Republic when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

Campaigners are seeking to liberalise the regime to allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

If the referendum goes ahead, voters will be asked whether they want to remove the section of the Constitution which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, and replace it with wording to allow parliament to regulate for the termination of pregnancy.

Senator Noone said: "Today the Supreme Court made a landmark decision. This judgment will allow us to move forward to a May referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

"It is my belief that the only rights afforded to the unborn under the current constitutional status, is the right to life provided for in the Eighth Amendment and this does not extend to other areas of the constitution.

"I urge us all to accept the Court's judgment in good faith and move forward in a civilised and respectful manner, as has been the case for the most part so far".

Health Minister Simon Harris spoke outside Government Buildings in Dublin following the ruling (Michelle Devane/PA)
Health Minister Simon Harris spoke outside Government Buildings in Dublin following the ruling (Michelle Devane/PA)

Labour Party TD Jan O'Sullivan welcomed the clarity provided by the ruling.

She said: "The decision paves the way for the Oireachtas to debate with clarity the wording of the proposed Government referendum, which is coming before the Dail this week.

"I look forward to engaging in the debate with my Oireachtas colleagues, and would again call on the Government to ensure it keeps to its timetable of a May referendum on the Eighth Amendment so that the maximum number of people will be available to vote on the issue, many for the first time."

The Government in January formally agreed to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

The move came after the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment published its report recommending repeal of Article 40.3.3, which recognises the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn.

The report stated that Constitutional provision prohibiting the termination of pregnancy in Ireland was unfit for purpose and in need of reform.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also welcomed the unanimous ruling, saying: "[It] offers real clarity, and paves the way for a referendum on the 8th Amendment in May," he said.

"We look forward to seeing the Government's legislation later this week, and to the debate in the Dail on Friday."