Abortion Q&A: What will happen after you vote in the referendum?

Government will introduce abortion legislation if Yes side wins

Irish citizens vote on the issue of abortion on May 25th. They will be asked whether or not to delete Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution (known as the Eighth Amendment) and replace it with a new Article allowing the Oireachtas to legislate on the issue.

What is the Government proposing?

The Government is proposing to bring legislation before the Dáil in the event that the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution is repealed in the May 25th referendum. The Eighth Amendment gives the unborn an equal right to life as the mother and therefore prohibits abortion in almost all cases.

So what happens if the Eighth Amendment is removed?

In the event of a Yes vote, the new Article 40.3.3 would be removed and be replaced with an enabling provision stating: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.”

The current law, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, remains in place until any new legislation is passed.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act allows for terminations when a mother’s life is at risk, including on the grounds of suicide.

The Government is proposing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act be replaced with a new piece of legislation. The general scheme of the Bill can be found here.

In what circumstances would abortion be available under the proposed new legislation?

Under the Government plans, terminations will be accessible within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. A woman will seek a termination from a medical practitioner, potentially a GP, or an obstetrician or a gynecologist.

The medical practitioner will have a legal obligation to discuss the woman’s options with her. A three-day waiting period will be enforced. After the 72 hours has elapsed, an abortion pill will be administered to women who choose to continue with the abortion.

Will abortions be available after 12 weeks?

In very specific circumstances, yes. If there is a risk to a woman’s life or a risk of serious harm to the health of the mother, two doctors will be asked to determine if an abortion should be permitted.

However, terminations in these instances will not be carried out beyond viability, which is reached at 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortions will also be available if woman is informed the foetus will not survive outside the womb, or will die shortly after due to a fatal abnormality.

Will there be late term abortions?

Yes but only in specific cases. Beyond the 24th week of pregnancy, there will be no abortions except in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. No gestational limits will apply in these circumstances.

What if a medical practitioner morally objects to abortion?

The legislation provides for conscientious objection for medical practitioners. However, it is expected doctors will be obliged to make arrangements for the transfer of care of the pregnant woman concerned to another practitioner. This is included in the current law, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

Will a woman still face prosecution if she procures an abortion?

Currently, a woman who accesses an abortion in this country faces 14 years in prison. The same penalty applies to a medical practitioner, or indeed anyone, who assists a woman in procuring a termination.

Under the proposed new legislation, this penalty would be removed for women. If the Eighth Amendment is removed and the Government proposed legislation passes, there will be no circumstances where a woman can be criminalised.

However anyone who performs an abortion outside the law will face a potential penalty of 14 years in prison.

What happens if the Eighth Amendment is not repealed?

If the amendment is not repealed in the referendum, the status quo remains where women will only be able to access abortion in Ireland where it is deemed her life is at risk.