Ireland: Citizens’ Assembly Votes Overwhelmingly to Reject Current Abortion Ban

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC


Members of Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly have voted overwhelmingly in favour of providing women with legal access to abortion.

The Citizens' Assembly - made up of 99 members of the public - was established by the Irish Government in November to advise on constitutional change regarding abortion. On Saturday, 87% voted not to retain the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which bans abortion unless there is a 'real and substantial risk' to the life of the woman. The Assembly then voted that the Eighth Amendment should be changed to allow the Oireachtas (Irish legislature) to reform Ireland's abortion laws.

A final vote on Sunday asked under what circumstances the Oireachtas should be allowed to legalise abortion. 64% of members said that women should be able to legally access abortion, for any reason. Of these, 48% favoured a maximum gestation period of 12 weeks. Some 44% favoured a 22-week gestation period, while 8% said there should be no restriction on gestational age.


The Assembly also voted for access to abortion at any stage of gestation where there is a risk to the woman's life, a serious risk to health, or where the pregnancy is not viable.


Under current laws, an abortion can only be carried out if there is a threat to the life of the mother. If anyone procures an abortion in Ireland, they can be jailed for up to 14 years. It means 9 women a day travel from the Republic of Ireland to Britain for terminations.


The Assembly’s chairperson, Justice Mary Laffoy, will now put together a report and present it to the Irish government by late June. 


Cara Sanquest, of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign said: “The Assembly’s recommendations are a hugely positive step forward for women's rights in Ireland - and support our view that the Eighth Amendment is not fit for purpose.


“The Assembly’s members have shown dedication throughout this process. They have accessed the evidence and today made their decision. They chose choice. “We call on the Irish government to set out a timeline for a referendum to give effect to the Assembly's recommendations. “Two generations of Irish women have been denied the opportunity to vote on a issue that directly impacts their lives - no one under the age of 50 has had the opportunity to vote on this issue. The time for change has now come.”


Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and barrister at Doughty Street Chambers said: "Ireland is grossly out of step with international law and standards on reproductive rights, criminalising women for deeply personal and often difficult medical decisions, and abandoning over 3,000 women each year to leave our shores to seek treatment abroad.


“This weekend the Citizens' Assembly has made clear that this must change. Now the Government must take urgent action."

The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign is a grassroots, volunteer-run organisation, committed to lobbying for change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland and the Republic. We currently have more than 1000 members.


The Citizens Assembly recommendations do have no impact on the current ban on abortion in Northern Ireland, where the 1967 Act which permits abortion in certain circumstances was never extended from England and Wales. 

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