35 years of abortion demos: from Plac and Spuc to ‘Repeal the 8th’

Ahead of Saturday’s pro-choice rallies, a look at some of the most influential protests and counter-protests on abortion

As the ‘March for Choice’ rally organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign to take place on Saturday we look back at some of the protests which have taken place on both sides of the argument over the decades.

Pro-life amendment:

December 24th 1981: The Christmas Eve 1981 march organised by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Spuc) blew the starting whistle on the campaign for the Eighth Amendment.

The Irish Times reported that "about 2,000 people carrying flowers and lighted candles marched through the streets of Dublin" demanding the Constitutional provision protecting the right to life of the unborn.


The marchers included a small number of TDs from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independent ranks as well as "dozens of nuns and priests". Spuc president Billy Quirke railed against the "atheistic trend-setters who are in public life today and who control the media" and proclaimed to the crowd "we are the great silence majority of Ireland".

Referendum campaign:

Wednesday, April 27th 1983: The Dail votes on the wording of the constitutional amendment on abortion amid near-daily protests outside Leinster House and vociferous lobbying by Spuc and the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (Plac).

A significant number of Fine Gael TDs refuse to support a new wording proposed by then attorney general Peter Sutherland, meaning the previous wording advanced by the Fianna Fail government will be put to the people.

The amendment - acknowledging “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother” - is passed on September 7th 1983 endorsed by 67 per cent of those who voted.


February 17th 1992: Protests take place outside government buildings against a High Court injunction forbidding a 14 year old girl who had become pregnant from rape to travel to Britain for an abortion.

Amid further rallies in Ireland and overseas, the Supreme Court later decides to overturn the High Court ruling in what became known as the X-case. Counter demonstrations are held by Youth Defence.

Travel and information:

Wednesday, November 25th 1992: Three referendums on abortion are held on the same day as a general election. The Thirteenth Amendment, permitting travel outside of the state to obtain an abortion, is approved, as is the Fourteenth Amendment confirming the right to distribute information about abortion services.

The Twelfth Amendment which would have excluded the risk of suicide as grounds for an abortion is defeated.

D case:

Wednesday, May 9th 2007: The High Court rules that a pregnant 17 year old girl in care whose baby has a fatal condition, meaning it could not survive after birth, is free to travel to Brtain for an abortion. Pro-choice groups held a vigil outside the Four Courts during the case - and a spate of demonstrations followed from rival campaigns.

Savita Halappanavar:

Saturday, November 17th 2012: Three days after news of Savita Halappanavar‘s death, demonstrations calling for legislation on abortion are held in various towns and cities, including Galway, Cork Ennis, Carlow, Limerick, Kilkenny and Sligo. The largest is in Dublin where the attendance is estimated at between 6,000 and 20,000.

“Rally for Life”:

Saturday, July 6th 2013: One of a series of major rallies by anti-abortion campaigners is held in Dublin, five days before the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is due to be passed in the Dáil.

Organisers claim that up to 80,000 people participated, while a Garda spokeswoman puts the number at 35,000.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column