I am both pro-choice and pro-life, says Micheál Martin

Fianna Fáil leader says Eighth Amendment cannot keep Ireland abortion free

Eighth Amendment: “I have great difficulty in forcing a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape or incest” to go through with her pregnancy, Micheál Martin said. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Eighth Amendment: “I have great difficulty in forcing a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape or incest” to go through with her pregnancy, Micheál Martin said. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


The Fianna Fáil leader has said he is both pro-choice and pro-life. Micheál Martin has also defended his change in position on abortion and his support for repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution to allow terminations on request up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Speaking on The View, on BBC Northern Ireland, he said he remains pro-life in his outlook despite his change in position. “I think certain groups throughout the years have appropriated the term ‘pro-life’ to themselves and [claim] anyone who doesn’t agree with an absolutist position is not pro-life, but I don’t accept that,” he said. “All my instincts are pro-life, and I would argue that changing the law in itself is not going to change the women or doctors of Ireland into abortionists. We must trust women and trust doctors,” he said.

“I don’t believe in the two labels – of course you can be pro-life and pro-choice . . . To try and say that someone who advocates a humane response to very traumatic situations for women is anti-life, or not pro-life, is wrong,” he told the programme.

Mr Martin said he was not “lynched” by party members for his comments on abortion. “We had a very calm debate about the issue yesterday, and people fully respect my right as a party leader, and people with the same views and different views in the party accept it,” he said. “Since I made my statement in the Dáil, many women and couples have shared their experience with me. It’s not that simple in terms of saying you are pro-life [or] pro-choice, and I respect people with different views to mine,” he said.

Fatal foetal abnormalities

“About two years ago I would have met mothers who had to go to England for terminations following diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormalities . . . They came into Dáil Éireann and talked to us about the harrowing trauma a diagnosis reveals, because they wanted to have their babies. They went to England and had to bring the remains of their babies back. That for me is something I could not countenance future women having to go through,” he said. “Likewise . . . I have great difficulty in forcing a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape or incest” to go through with the pregnancy.

Mr Martin said obstetricians and legal experts who appeared before the Oireachtas committee said the existing framework harms women. “It has the threat of criminal sanction hanging over them – criminalisation – and the threat of it has to be removed. There is no practical legal or humane way to deal with the rape issue or incest issue legally in early pregnancy. It’s all very well for people to show empathy and [say] we don’t want to force . . . but there’s a logical follow-through to that.”

Mr Martin said the availability of abortion pills from overseas websites means women are being harmed. “What you have in the Republic of Ireland is unrestricted access to abortion with no medical supervision, and that’s a big issue for doctors, as some women are coming into them with complications following them accessing the pill online,” he said. “Retaining the Eighth Amendment will not keep Ireland an abortion-free country.”

How does your representative intend to vote?

To find out how your TD, Senator or party intends to vote, use Pat Leahy’s abortion-referendum tracker, at www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/referendum-tracker.

What is the Eighth Amendment?

Article 40.3.3, also known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted in the Constitution after a referendum in 1983. The amendment guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother. It prohibits abortion in almost all cases. 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 did the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment conclude?

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution concluded in December 2017 that article 40.3.3 should be removed from the Constitution and politicians should be allowed to legislate for abortion. After three months of evidence and a series of votes, the committee said the current regime for the termination of pregnancy is unfit for purpose and that constitutional reform is necessary. Legislation should be prepared to permit terminations up to the 12th week of pregnancy, without restriction, by way of a GP service, the committee said. It concluded that legislating to allow for abortions in cases of rape and incest would have presented significant challenges. It was the committee’s opinion that a verification process to prove someone was the victim of sexual assault was likely to be complex or even unworkable and could have caused further trauma to a victim. These difficulties and the availability of abortion pills led the members to agree abortions should be allowed up to 12 weeks of gestation. The committee’s final report also concludes abortions should be allowed when a mother’s life or health is at risk. Such a risk cannot be determined in legislation as it is dependent on individual circumstances and should be considered in a clinical setting.

To read more

Pat Leahy on the big questions the Cabinet must answer about the abortion referendum.