Support for referendum to re-visit Eighth Amendment


Once again our citizens are showing our timorous political class the way forward. Although there are opponents of abortion who have long been clamouring for another referendum in the hope of reversing what they see as the permissive 1983 Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, the two-thirds-majority support (68 per cent) for another vote in today’s Irish Times Ipsos/MRBI poll has to be seen as in a very different light.

In the wake of the recent Y case, when a young refugee who alleged she had been raped was denied an abortion, respondents were asked specifically whether they would like a referendum “on whether or not to permit abortion in cases of rape or where the foetus will not be born alive”. Seen in the context of two 2013 Ipsos/MRBI polls, which found that eight out of 10 respondents felt both that abortion should be allowed when the foetus cannot survive outside the womb and also in cases of rape or abuse, the message is clearly “permit”.

Significantly, today’s poll finds such strong levels of support for another referendum across all parts of the State, among all age groups and parties, and all social classes, with the lone exception of farmers where there was only a 49-42 per cent majority for a poll.

In the aftermath of Savita Halappanavar’s death, the contentious debate last year on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, and the Y case Government politicians have made clear that while some see a case for another referendum, specifically on these two issues, they rule out any prospect of it during the course of the Government’s life. Fine Gael is terrified of opening up further splits on its backbenches, while Labour apparently does not feel it has the leverage to insist or want to invest the political capital in doing so. No change then in the long ignoble history of legislative prevarication by TDs who have only acted on abortion when forced to do so by the courts.

Both the Savita and Y cases are testimony to the need for urgent change, as are the concerns expressed yesterday by the Department of Health at the cases of women who travel to the UK for terminations after receiving a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, and then return to Ireland to deliver their stillborn babies. As the foetus is no longer alive when they return, there is nothing illegal here about such procedures despite clear safety implications for women travelling in such a condition. The full procedures should be carried out in the State, but that cannot be with the law unchanged.

Meanwhile, only two days ago the Stormont Department of Justice initiated a consultation process on amending the criminal law in Northern Ireland precisely on these issues. And Justice Minister David Ford made a “strong recommendation” for legislation to allow an abortion where there is no prospect of a foetus being delivered and having a viable life.