Citizens’ Assembly backs abortion rights in wide range of circumstances

Two-thirds (64%) of participants support no restrictions on abortion under term limits

Members of the Citizens’ Assembly have recommended that abortion should be permitted in the State in a wide range of circumstances.

A majority of the 92 members voted to allow for abortion in all 13 circumstances considered by the body at its final meeting on Sunday.

The lowest level of support was for the proposal to have no restrictions on the reasons for allowing abortion yet this still attracted approval from almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of a valid poll of 87 members of the assembly.

At the request of the members of the assembly, a category of abortion in the case of socioeconomic circumstances was included. Abortion was supported by 72 per cent of members of the assembly in that case.


The outcome is a recommendation far more liberal than many observers had expected.

The assembly's recommendations will be presented to the Oireachtas and if accepted would mean the holding of a referendum to overturn the existing Constitutional provision banning abortion.

Two days

The multi-option ballot was carried after two days of deliberations.

Initially, eight scenarios for considering abortion were allowed but this was raised to 13 after the members included socioeconomic circumstances and various health circumstances on the final ballot.

The members were asked to consider five scenarios for each circumstance. They were asked if they would allow abortion up to 12 weeks, 22 weeks or without gestational limits. They were also asked to state if they thought abortion should never be able for this reason. They were also allowed not to state an opinion.

On the question of whether there should be no restriction on the reasons for allowing abortion, 64 per cent agreed but just 8 per cent agreed with no regard to gestational age.

Some 48 per cent said there should be no restriction up to 12 weeks only and 44 per cent said there should be no restriction up to 22 weeks gestation.

Some 89 per cent expressed support for abortion rights in the case of pregnancy as a result of rape.

Similarly, 89 per cent supported abortion rights in the case of the unborn child having a foetal abnormality that was likely to result in death before or shortly after birth.

Some 78 per cent of members backed abortion rights in the case of a risk to the woman’s physical health, and there was identical support in the case of a risk to the woman’s mental health.

In an additional vote, 72 per cent agreed that a distinction should not be drawn between the physical and mental health of the woman in deciding on abortion rights.

More than 90 per cent of the members supported abortion in circumstances where there was a real and substantial physical risk to the life of the women, in the case of potential suicide and where there was a serious risk to the physical or mental health of the woman.

Final report

The assembly's deliberations and recommendations will form the basis of a report sent to the Oireachtas by assembly chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy in June.

She described the final process as a “complex task” for the members of the assembly.

Ms Justice Laffoy said the members had “comprehensively considered” Article 40.3.3 and, at a minimum, the members had called for a change to the status quo.

She said there would be a lot of analysis for it and the results had provided a “clear map” for her final report to the Oireachtas.

Many groups immediately called for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment. The Irish Family Planning Agency chief executive Niall Behan said the assembly had "provided the Oireachtas committee with an extremely strong imperative for change".

The Association for the Improvement in Maternity Services (AIMS) Ireland called on the Government to set a date for the referendum "without delay".

It added: "The Citizens Assembly has again proven that there is a strong desire for change and that there is a belief that all people in pregnancy should be given choice and full rights over what happens to their bodies."

Article 40.3.3, which was introduced as the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1983, reads: “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.”

On Saturday, the citizens voted 51-38 to an amended ballot paper which suggested that Article 40.3.3, the Eighth Amendment, “should be replaced with a constitutional provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and any rights of the pregnant woman”.

The alternative option was that Article 40.3.3 should be “replaced or amended with a constitutional provision that directly addresses the termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn and any rights of the pregnant woman”.

The decision mandates the Oireachtas to legislate on the issue of abortion rather than specify the terms on which abortion would be allowed in a further Constitutional amendment.

In the first of two ballots being voted on by the assembly on Saturday, participants voted by a margin of more than six to one that Article 40.3.3 “should not be retained in full”.

The first ballot had two options: that “Article 40.3.3 should be retained in full”, or that “Article 40.3.3 should not be retained in full”.

Of 91 eligible voters, just 12 voted for the first proposition (13 per cent), while 79 voted in favour of the second (87 per cent).

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times