Time for a vote on Eighth Amendment
Sir, – As expected, people in Ireland continue to favour expanded access to abortion as demonstrated in your Ipsos MRBI poll.
Repeated opinion polls over the last three years have shown a consistent appetite for change.
The results also point to gaps in public awareness and knowledge on abortion. The members of the Citizens’ Assembly rigorously educated themselves on the issue.
Over five weekends, they considered it from every angle, hearing from women with direct experience of abortion (including those who chose not to have abortions) as well as international experts.
Their conclusion was to recommend access for abortion on request at least in early pregnancy by a significant majority – 64 per cent.
Perhaps the greatest lesson of the Citizens’ Assembly was the importance of providing people with detailed information, international best practice and empirical evidence on what is best for women. In our address to the Citizens’ Assembly, we drew on this evidence and called on the members of the assembly to recommend access to abortion on request in early pregnancy and on protected grounds thereafter. This is the best way to ensure access to abortion in line with human rights grounds, both in law and in practice.
Many respondents to your poll may be unaware that when access to abortion is provided for only in narrow grounds, it is often difficult or even impossible for women and girls to access these services in practice. The experience of the 2013 Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act has shown that even when women have a legal right to access abortion, many choose to travel for abortion services rather than undergo the onerous and invasive procedures which limit access and cause human rights harm.
In September 2016 four UN experts recommended “the good practice found in many countries which provide women’s access to safe abortion services, on request during the first trimester of pregnancy”, as well as access to abortion in specific circumstances in later pregnancy. This is the best way to safeguard women’s and girls’ rights.
It is the logical and compassionate solution endorsed by the members of the Citizens’ Assembly when they were fully informed on the issue.
The Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations set out a comprehensive mandate for law reform. If key gaps are plugged by the new Oireachtas Committee, including fully decriminalising abortion, these recommendations pave the way for human rights-compliant legislation. The committee must work quickly and decisively in responding to the assembly’s mandate to end the daily violations of women’s and girls’ human rights.
Last June, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Ireland violated the human rights of a woman. The Government pointed to the Citizens’ Assembly process as a pathway to possible reform of Ireland’s abortion laws. Now that it has completed its work, there can be no more excuses and no more delays. The Government must commit to a timeframe for a referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment from our Constitution.
It is time for the people of Ireland to have their say. – Yours, etc,