Every woman in Ireland should be able to access a legal abortion – in Ireland – if she needs one, Ireland’s Citizens Assembly overwhelmingly declared at the weekend
The Assembly called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s minority government, which is kept in power by Fianna Fail, to fully legalise access to abortion in Ireland for the first time since the 19th century.
The forum’s called for a radical change Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion – which will require another referendum – and the inclusion of a specific reference to the rights of the woman, instead of just the rights of the unborn, in any forthcoming new laws. On Sunday the Citizens’ Assembly voted by 52 votes to 29 to allow access to terminations or abortions with no restriction on reasons.
Of the 52 who voted for liberal access, 25 stated abortion should be available up to 12 weeks’ gestation, 23 citizens opted for a 22-week limit and four stated there should be no restriction on gestational age.
It followed an earlier vote on Saturday calling for repeal of the 1983 Eighth Amendment which gives equal standing in law to the mother and an unborn foetus. On Saturday the citizens’ assembly voted by 79 votes to 12 against keeping that 1983 amendment.
After examining the issue for six months, the 92 citizens in the forum decided that the constitution should explicitly give the Oireachtas the power to pass abortion law. Members of the assembly have heard from 25 legal, medical and ethical experts on abortion and unplanned pregnancy and heard personal stories from women in Ireland who had direct experience of unplanned pregnancy.
The Supreme Court judge who chaired the forum Miss Justice Mary Laffoy will formally recommend that Irish law should allow abortion in all circumstances. It will then be up to a specially formed committee of TDs and senators to consider her report and the official response, including calling for a referendum.
The specially selected citizens voted thirteen times and on each occasion a decisive majority voted to allow abortion in every circumstance, from when the life of the woman is at risk to when one is needed for socioeconomic reasons.
More than 70 members supported access in cases where there was a risk to a woman’s mental health and physical health, in cases of rape, and foetal abnormalities that were likely to be fatal. Sixty-six voted for abortion access where a foetal abnormality was not likely to be fatal.
Gravity of choice
Sixty members said abortion should be legal for socioeconomic reasons, a reason added to the ballot on Sunday after several assembly members requested it. The original vote had asked if abortion should be available “on request” but members felt it did not reflect the seriousness or gravity of the choice and recommended that it be changed to “no restriction on reasons”.
The citizens’ assembly also advised that all women should have access to a 20- week ultrasound scan and that maternity care should be standardised. Several citizens also called for abortion to be available to women at no financial cost.
Several of Ireland’s anti-abortion organisations have insisted that the assembly was biased in favour of repealing the eighth amendment from the very start. But Judge Laffoy said the forum had been transparent and objective at all times and thanked the members for their work on the issue of abortion and the women who gave very personal, anonymous testimony.
She said the findings were a clear call for change to the status quo ante: “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have the members. I know that many of you have made some very major sacrifices to be part of this process.
“You have all given up your time and energy. Each weekend, and this weekend in particular, involved an incredible degree of dedication and evaluation. You were pushed and pulled, and you never flinched.
“I want to say thanks to the women whose voices reverberated around this room as they recalled their own experiences of the Eighth Amendment, and I want to once again repeat my heartfelt gratitude to them.”