Sinn Féin TD defends supporting Eighth Amendment

Taoiseach says he will make his personal stance on Eight Amendment vote clear ‘soon’

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín said he did not agree with his party’s stance on the Eighth Amendment. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has defended opposition to repealing the Eighth Amendment, which is at odds with his party’s view.

At its recent ard fheis Sinn Féin voted to take a position in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment, which effectively bans abortion by giving equal standing to the rights of the mother and the child.

The Meath East TD said he does not agree with the party's stance.

“We have an agreement, once I give the party’s position then I can give my own, it’s up to everybody to speak for themselves. Sinn Féin is solidly pro repeal,” Mr Tóibín told Newstalk Breakfast.


Mr Tóibín said he is against abortion and believes all human life should be protected.

“No one should be left behind. Everyone should be protected by the Constitution.”

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He said he had grave concerns about the high levels of abortions in relation to diagnoses of Down syndrome in countries like Denmark and Iceland.

However, he said in cases where the mother’s life is threatened, she had a right to all health care even if it has an impact on the life of the baby.

“If there is a change in this law now then there’s no going back. If the law is to be changed it will be changed at the ballot box.

“This is a once in a generation debate and all citizens have a right to debate.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Wednesday said his own views on the issue of abortion would be made clear “soon” when the wording for the the upcoming referendum was published.

He said part of the responsibility of leadership was to listen and that he was carefully considering the views expressed in Dáil, Seanad and Cabinet.

What is the Eighth Amendment?

Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, also known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted into 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 Committee on the Eighth Amendment 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 stated 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 12 weeks of pregnancy, without restriction, by way of a GP service, the committee said. It concluded that legislating to allow for abortions in the 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. Full article from December 2017.