Podcast: How the Eighth Amendment came to be

How politics and society in early 80s Ireland helped the constitutional change to pass

A protest against the Eighth Amendment outside Leinster House following the X case in 1992. File photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

A protest against the Eighth Amendment outside Leinster House following the X case in 1992. File photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

 

“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.”

So reads the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, the main item on the agenda of the new Citizens’ Assembly.

The assembly meets for the first time this weekend, as Irish society attempts once again to deal definitively with an issue that has dogged Irish politicians since 1983.

In that year, against a backdrop of political instability and conflicting views on how the granting of the right to life to the unborn would play out in public courts and private lives, the referendum passed by a two-to-one majority.

Podcast: Story of the 8th

The wording of the Amendment was put to the people despite the concerns of then taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald and minister for justice Michael Noonan, who said that “the reference to the equal rights of the mother is insufficient to guarantee that operations necessary to save the life of the mother but resulting in the death of the foetus may continue”.

Mr Noonan’s words foreshadowed the first serious challenge the Eighth Amendment would face, when the X case, concerning a suicidal rape victim who was denied the right to travel for an abortion, convulsed the nation a decade later.

Irish Times correspondent Ruadhán Mac Cormaic has written about the Eighth Amendment and the X case in his new book, The Supreme Court.

On this edition of Inside Politics, he talks with Hugh Linehan about the political, legal and social circumstances that led to the passing of the Amendment.

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