Reforming abortion law

After more than 30 years of activism, 25 May 2018 marked a significant historical moment as Irish people voted to repeal the 8th amendment. This allowed the government to legislate for the provision of lawful abortion, which has now been available in the Republic of Ireland since 1 January 2019.

However, this alone was not enough to ensure the resulting law would put the rights of pregnant women and girls first, and comply with international human rights law. Here we outline how research undertaken by Birmingham Law School academics informed the legislative reform process that changed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world into one that is largely respectful of pregnant peoples’ reproductive health decisions. 

Overview and impact in Ireland

Professor Fiona de Londras and Máiréad Enright co-authored the book ‘Repealing the 8th’. Published in February 2018, its content offers practical proposals for policymakers and reform advocates, including model legislation, and was used as a campaigning tool ahead of the referendum.

Working within their long-standing political, activist, academic and civil society peers, de Londras and Enright ensured that a collaborative and feminist pathway to reform was achieved. As part of Lawyers for Choice, they contributed to a programme of public legal education which shaped popular understanding of the legal issues at stake. Working with Together For Yes, de Londras and Enright were part of a team shaping evidence-based messages and rebuttals. During the referendum campaign, their website About the 8th (aboutthe8th.com) translated complex legal arguments for the electorate so that non-experts were empowered to engage with the issues as they prepared to cast their vote.

After the referendum, they worked with academic lawyers, campaigners, NGOs and politicians to ensure that their submissions on the Bill reflected the concerns of those on the ground. While some of their proposals were successfully reflected in the new law (for example, in respect of how a health ground ought to be framed), others were not. However, following their proposals, a provision requiring that the law be reviewed in three years time was included, at which stage issues such as the mandatory waiting period, the criminalisation of assistance, and the continued criminalisation of doctors (which they argued against) may be revisited. In addition, other proposals they made—such as the introduction of safe/exclusion zones around premises where abortion care is provided—remain on the legislative agenda, with action promised in the coming months.

Research today

Although Ireland now has a new law on abortion, much remains to be done. de Londras and Enright continue to work with activists, NGOs, healthcare providers and politicians in Ireland to identify how and why the law is and is not working, and to make proposals for further reform.

Beyond Ireland, their research is also feeding into on-going efforts for law reform in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland, and the research team is now collaborating across groups and borders to share lessons from Ireland on how academics and civil society can work together in abortion law reform campaigns, to bring research based approaches to politicians shaping legislative debates and reform, and to make the case for regulating abortion as healthcare rather than as a crime.

Research team

Outputs

  • Fiona de Londras & Máiréad Enright, Repealing the 8th: Reforming Irish Abortion Law (2018; Policy Press)
  • Máiréad Enright,, Vicky Conway, Fiona de Londras, Ruth Fletcher, Position Paper on The Updated General Scheme of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 (2018)
  • Máiréad Enright, Vicky Conway, Fiona de Londras, Mary Donnelly, Ruth Fletcher, Natalie McDonnell, Sheelagh McGuinness, Claire Murray, Sinead Ring, Sorcha ui Chonnachtaigh, “General Scheme of the Access to Abortion Bill 2015” (2015) 5(1) feminists@law (p.p. 32) (O4)
  • Fiona de Londras, “Constitutionalizing Fetal Rights: A Salutary Tale from Ireland” (2015) 22(2) Michigan Journal of Gender and the Law 243-289

Engagement and resources

 

Birmingham Heroes: PROFESSOR FIONA DE LONDRAS

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