Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently announced that a referendum on the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, which bans abortion in Ireland, is provisionally scheduled for May or June of 2018.
The Oireachtas committee is currently working on how the referendum will be worded and they are expected to report back to government by 20th December. What are the possibilities for what we might see on the ballot paper next year?
Back in April 2017, the Citizens’ Assembly met to vote on the issue of the eighth amendment. The 92 participants voted on abortion in the case of the following 13 reasons:
1. Real and substantial physical risk to the life of the woman
2. Real and substantial risk to the life of the woman by suicide
3. Serious risk to the physical health of the woman
4. Serious risk to the mental health of the woman
5. Serious risk to the health of the woman
6. Risk to the physical health of the woman
7. Risk to the mental health of the woman
8. Risk to the health of the woman
9. Pregnancy as a result of rape
10. The unborn child having a foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death
11. The unborn child having a foetal abnormality that is not likely to result in death before or shortly after birth
12. Socioeconomic reasons
13. No restriction as to reasons
64% of participants voted in support of abortion being legalised with “No restriction as to reasons”. Many pro-choice activists are also looking for no restrictions. This means that a woman could have an abortion at any time up to 22 weeks of gestational age, without having any particular reason such as rape, incest, or health concerns.
Any combination of these 13 reasons are along the lines of what we can expect the referendum to be phrased like next summer. However, a recent Fine Gael cabinet meeting came to the conclusion that only a restrictive bill would have a chance of passing. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that he believes the current laws on abortion are “too restrictive” but has also stated that he doesn’t believe the country is ready for “abortion on demand”.
What do Ireland’s various political parties advocate for?
Fianna Fáil have not announced any particular position on circumstances under which they support abortion. Members of the party will have a free vote in the referendum.
Fine Gael are undecided on the issue as members have differing views on circumstances for termination. Members will have a free vote.
Social Democrats are in favour of repealing eighth amendment.
Labour supports repealing the eighth in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.
Sinn Féin supports repealing the eighth without replacing it with another amendment. The party supports terminations in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities. Members will have a free vote.
Independent Alliance has no position on the issue due to differing views among TDs.
Independents4Change favour repealing eighth. The party supports a range of circumstances for termination, particularly before the 12 week stage of pregnancy.
Rural Independents have differing views on circumstances for abortion and have not announced a position on the issue.
Green Party agrees that abortion should be legal in the cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities or when the health of the mother is at risk.
PBP-Solidarity is pro-choice. The party has not specified circumstances under which they support the termination of a pregnancy.
Varadkar has said “I honestly don’t know if the public would go as far as what the Citizens’ Assembly have recommended. Public opinion polls have indicated that they wouldn’t but that may change during the course of the debate.”
On Saturday 30th September, the largest annual March for Choice took place in Dublin City Centre, with an estimate of 40,000 in attendance. The Rally for Life took place back in July which also saw tens of thousands marching. The last referendum that took place on the issue was in 1983 and passed by 67% of the vote in favour of banning abortion in Ireland.
Nobody under the age of 53 has voted on this issue and approximately 170,000 Irish women have travelled for abortion since the 80s. These figures from both sides suggest that the results next year will be a close-call either way.