The Citizens’ Assembly is due to vote this weekend on whether to recommend any change to the State’s abortion laws.
The 100-strong body will meet for the final time to consider the future of the Eighth Amendment, which was inserted into the Constitution in 1983 and guarantees to protect the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn.
In a statement to The Irish Times on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the assembly said the weekend’s programme “will be focused exclusively on reaching these recommendations primarily by ballot paper voting.
“It will comprise a number of steps, namely agreeing on the content and wording of the ballot paper and voting,” the statement said.
The secretariat of the assembly has prepared a draft ballot paper which will be released to delegates later this week. They will debate and agree a final ballot paper before voting, though it is expected that the delegates will be faced with a number of choices.
“Voting will be in secret and the voting process and counting of ballot papers will be overseen by a former returning officer and their team,” the assembly said.
It is not yet decided what the exact options on the ballot paper will be. Nor is it clear what the voting system will be.
However, the three basic options that will face delegates are to leave the constitutional ban on abortion as it is; to recommend that the ban be excised from the Constitution completely; or that article 40.3.3 should be amended to allow for greater access to abortion while retaining a constitutional prohibition of abortion in some cases.
These were outlined to the assembly at its last meeting by senior counsel Brian Murray, in a paper described by the assembly’s chair, the Supreme Court judge Mary Laffoy, as being of the “utmost importance”.
It is possible that different types of reform of the constitutional ban will be voted on by delegates.
Organisations campaigning for and against repeal of the constitutional ban have called on delegates to support their positions when they vote at the weekend.
Pro-Life Campaign spokeswoman Cora Sherlock said “there would be nothing democratic or liberal about a referendum as it would involve an attack on the most basic human right of all, namely the right to life”.
Extremely flawed process
She said the assembly was “an extremely flawed process to begin with”.
“I’m not saying members of the assembly haven’t taken their responsibilities seriously. I sincerely hope they will not recommend the holding of a referendum having reflected on the Eighth Amendment and the hugely positive and life-saving impact it has had and continues to have on society.”
Ailbhe Smyth, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said that “the Eighth Amendment must be deleted from the Constitution and no replacement amendment should be proposed”.
“Putting this issue into the Constitution in the first place distorted our legislative process and made it almost impossible to achieve even minor change. We urge the Citizens’ Assembly to recommend, at the very least, restoring the normal processes of democratic decision-making by reversing the mistake that was made in 1983,” she said.