CofI questions if public vote appropriate to resolve abortion issue

Church says complex issue ‘more suitably addressed through nuanced legislation’

The Church of Ireland has questioned whether a referendum is an appropriate vehicle to deal with morally complex issues such as abortion.

In a statement, it has repeated its view “that abortion should be confined to situations of strict and undeniable medical necessity”.

The church’s standing committee recalled how, since the 1983 abortion referendum, it has publicly questioned “the wisdom of addressing such complex moral problems by means of amendments to the Constitution”.

It said “unfolding events and a range of tragic human cases over the past three decades have demonstrated the deficiencies of the constitutional approach”. “However, we would wish to emphasise that to review or question the value of the Eighth Amendment at this time is not by implication to call for easy access to abortion,” it said.


“Rather, it is to suggest that those complex and hopefully rare situations in which medical necessity might require termination of pregnancy would be more suitably addressed through nuanced legislation.”

‘Good wishes’

The statement was prepared for submission on behalf of the Church of Ireland to the Citizens’ Assembly and its considerations of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Church of Ireland, it said, “offers its good wishes and prayers to the assembly in its weighty duty of striving to find a way forward in this sensitive matter, so that the rights of both mothers and the unborn may be duly balanced and careful reflection may take place regarding the place of the Constitution in addressing complex moral and social matters”.

At hearings of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children in January 2013, during debate on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, said it opposed abortion in principle but acknowledged there were cases of "strict and undeniable medical necessity" where it was and should be an option.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times