Human rights commission calls for legalisation of abortion

State human rights watchdog says abortion should be widely available

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Government's human rights watchdog, will on Wednesday call on the Government to introduce a referendum to delete the Eighth Amendment and go on to legislate for widespread access to abortion.

The commission, set up to monitor and advise the Government on human rights issues, is to give evidence at the Oireachtas committee on the amendment on Wednesday.

In its submission, which has been seen by The Irish Times, the commission will recommend that the Government proposes a referendum to abolish the Eighth Amendment entirely and then legislates for widespread access to publicly-funded abortion.

The statement to the Eighth Amendment committee is the first time that the human rights commission has advocated the legalisation of general access to abortion in Ireland. Previously the commission's position reflected that of UN bodies which have found that Ireland is in breach of international human rights obligations by not making abortion available in cases of fatal foetal conditions, following cases taken by women who travelled abroad for abortions in such circumstances.


Access to services

However, Wednesday’s statement goes much further. It says that after the Eighth Amendment is deleted from the Constitution, the Government should seek to legislate for a “reformed framework for access to abortion services in Ireland”.

It says that there should be access to abortion services “for reasons of a risk to the life, health or wellbeing of the woman, socio-economic or family circumstances, pregnancy due to rape or incest and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.”

It says that the decision-making process on abortion should be “primarily in the hands of the pregnant woman in consultation with her physician, and that avoids to the greatest extent possible onerous grounds-based certification procedures”.

It makes no recommendations on term limits for abortion but says, “Any gestational term limits included in a reformed framework for access to abortion services in Ireland should be devised in keeping with best medical practice, and with the health of the pregnant woman as the primary focus.”

Any term limits, the commission says, should be “necessary, proportionate, and should have due regard to a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, and her right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.


Regardless of moves to regulate and fund the availability of abortion, the commission recommends, it should also “decriminalise abortion in all circumstances”.

The Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body established by statute, formed following the merger of the former Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority.

It says its purpose is “to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State”.

Its chief commissioner, Emily Logan, and commission member Prof Siobhan Mullaly are both scheduled to address the committee. Members will also hear from lawyer and pro-choice advocate Christina Zampas.

The meeting will also be addressed by veteran anti-abortion campaigner and Trinity College professor William Binchy.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times