Birmingham law scholars propose new abortion legislation ahead of Irish referendum

Two legal scholars from the University of Birmingham’s Law School have argued for the repeal of the 8th Amendment – Ireland’s law preventing abortion taking place.

In their new book, ‘Repealing the 8th: Reforming Irish Abortion Law’, Professor Fiona de Londras and Máiréad Enright propose new legislation to make abortion care lawfully accessible should constitutional change be approved in the Irish referendum.

Currently, the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution prohibits access to abortion except when the pregnant person’s life is in danger. A referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment will be held later in 2018.

In the book, out today (1st February), Professor de Londras and Máiréad Enright argue for the repeal of the 8th Amendment.

Professor Fiona de Londras, University of Birmingham said:

‘The book clearly demonstrates the impact of the 8th Amendment on women’s reproductive lives, and is designed to make out the legal arguments for its repeal in a way that is accessible not only to politicians and policy makers but to voters, who will ultimately decide on the fate of the 8th Amendment.’

Máiréad Enright, University of Birmingham added, ’Repealing the amendment will not be enough; we will need new legislation and a whole new way of thinking about pregnancy and reproduction in law. Our book offers that.

‘In our draft legislation we aim to provide a blueprint for the new law that can follow repeal. In doing this, we draw on best practice from other countries, from human rights law, and from our years of engagement, with activists and pregnant people in Ireland’.

When drafting the legislation, the researchers considered the findings of the Citizens’ Assembly, set up by the Oireachtas in 2016. This reported in June of 2017, following months of evidence, testimony, submissions, deliberations, and legal and medical advice.

The academics also considered the outcomes of cases when the 8th Amendment was invoked, how other countries legislate for abortion, and international human rights law, as well as the work of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment, which reported in December 2017.

Professor de Londras, University of Birmingham continues: ’At first glance, the 8th Amendment may seem innocuous or merely aspirational. However, over time this provision has led to a near-absolute prohibition on abortion in Irish law and serious infringement of pregnant people’s rights.

‘By treating the foetus as a constitutional person, separate from the pregnant person to the extent that it is entitled to its own legal representation, and with a right to life exactly equivalent to hers, the 8th Amendment subordinates the pregnant person’s constitutional rights to the right to life of the unborn.

‘While some women have been able to exercise reproductive agency by leaving Ireland for abortion elsewhere, or by importing abortion pills purchased online, there are serious socio-economic disparities in terms of people’s ability to make choices in spite of the 8th Amendment.

‘Children, people on low incomes, people without travel documentation and others cannot usually find ways around the 8th Amendment; it is they who suffer the most from the restrictions it imposes through the law.”

Máiréad Enright, University of Birmingham adds:

’We have written this book to state the case for why the 8th Amendment must be repealed and to provide those in power with draft legislation that they can consider when drawing up new laws if it is. In doing this, we are building on decades of work by activists who have risen up in recent years to demand a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment’.

’We accept that if repeal does occur, and new laws are passed, they may differ, in big or small ways, from those that we propose. What is important to us is that the Irish people will soon have the chance to repeal the 8th Amendment, and that through this book we can demonstrate how the law might be developed in ways that will properly respect the rights of pregnant people if and when that occurs’.

ENDS

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Notes to Editors

  • The 8th Amendment was introduced following a referendum in 1983. It provides, in the form of Article 40.3.3, that: ‘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.’
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked among the world's top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
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  • Fiona de Londras and Máiréad Enright are available to speak to advocacy and campaigning groups about the book and the referendum at locations across Ireland. They can be contacted directly via email: f.delondras@bham.ac.uk or M.Enright@bham.ac.uk. 
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