Abortion committee set to recommend allowing terminations up to 12 weeks

Committee on Eighth Amendment to vote on its final proposals today

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment is to recommend a series of changes to Ireland’s abortion legislation.

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment is to recommend a series of changes to Ireland’s abortion legislation.


The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment is to recommend a series of changes to Ireland’s abortion legislation, including allowing terminations up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

The 21-member committee will vote on its final proposals today, with just three members concluding there should be no change to the current regime.

Among the proposals to be agreed include repealing Article 40.3.3, also known as the eight amendment of the Constitution, allowing the Oireachtas to legislate and decriminalising abortion in the State.

The committee has been considering the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly. The committee is considering six options for repealing or replacing the Eighth Amendment, which places an equal right to life on the unborn child and the mother.

The majority of members will support the introduction of a GP-led abortion service with terminations available up to 12 weeks.

Fianna Fáil TDs James Browne and Anne Rabbitte both confirmed their position would be to amend Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution to allow for abortions in certain circumstances.

In a joint statement, the two Deputies said they supported holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, but favour its replacement rather than its removal.

Article 40.3.3 should be amended to allow for terminations to be provided in the cases of rape, fatal foetal abnormalities and when there is a serious threat to the life, health or mental health of the mother, the pair added.


‘Matter of compassion’

“In instances of fatal foetal abnormalities, this should be a matter for the mother in conjunction with her medical team, and should be a matter of compassion...A woman should no longer face a criminal sanction for the procurement of a termination that is illegal under Irish law.”

The position of Ms Rabbitte and Mr Browne differs from the other Fianna Fáil members on the committee.

TDs Billy Kelleher and Lisa Chambers and Senator Ned O’Sullivan have tabled motions to allow for terminations unrestricted up to 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin members on the committee, TDs Jonathan O’Brien and Louise O’Reilly and Senator Paul Gavan, held a meeting with party leadership yesterday to assess whether they can abstain from that proposal. It goes beyond the party’s position on the Eighth Amendment, which is to allow for abortions in certain circumstances.

It is understood the three members sought approval to support the recommendation, but the request was declined.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, a member of the committee, said today’s meeting would be a historic day in the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment. She urged all political parties to vote in favour of the proposal and “give women the right to make their own choice on their body”.

Meanwhile, Independent TD Mattie McGrath has asked that the committee consider a provision for conscientious objection protections in any future law.

Without such a provision, he says it is entirely likely that GPs, medical professionals and healthcare personnel “will effectively be coerced into participating in an abortion under threat of professional sanction”.

What is the eight amendment of the Constitution?

Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, also known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted into the Constitution after a referendum in 1983. It guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother. It states: “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.”

This Article was interpreted by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the X case in March, 1992. It ruled that abortion is permissible in the State where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother and where such a risk could not be averted except by means of an abortion. A substantial risk to the life of the mother included a risk of suicide.

What is the Citizens’ Assembly?

The Citizens’ Assembly was tasked by the Government with making recommendations to be presented to the Oireachtas committee for deliberations. In April 2017 it recommended that abortion should be permitted in the State in a wide range of circumstances.

Most of the 92 members voted to allow for abortion in all 13 circumstances they had considered. 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 Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment has been considering the assembly recommendations.