Referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution

Sir, – Your news report (May 21st) quotes the Taoiseach as saying that, if the current proposal is defeated, it could be another 35 years before voters get to have a say on the Eighth Amendment again. In light of the fact that many voters wish to amend the current Constitution, but are equally unhappy with the alternatives being proposed, one might ask why Mr Varadkar raises the prospect of no other alternative emerging for 35 years.

Is there a clue in your heading on the inside page: “Varadkar warns of scaremongering”? – Yours, etc,




Co Cork.

Sir, – As a mother and grandmother, I look forward to the changes that will come with a Yes vote on May 25th. Life is complicated. Much as we may strive to, we cannot protect our children and grandchildren from all the difficulties that life may throw them. However, we can support them by offering them the freedom to choose. Currently the Eighth Amendment inhibits our ability to support our loved ones. I look forward to a Yes vote so that we can work to offer compassion and appropriate medical care if the unthinkable happens and they are faced with difficult and life-changing events. – Yours, etc,



Co Kerry.

Sir, – As we come nearer to the vote on the Eighth Amendment, I would like to reiterate the position of the Methodist Church in Ireland on this matter. First and foremost it needs to be said that as a church we are and have consistently been opposed to abortion on demand. We want to encourage a society which has a holistic concern for the emotional,physical and social health of mothers. This and a belief that the unborn child should have a right to life underpins our call for the development of a society that provides its citizens with a framework for all to thrive. Following on from this, we are adamant that support services should be put in place for women who proceed with a challenging pregnancy.

Whatever the result of the referendum, the Methodist Church will continue to strongly and consistently call for increased investment in adoptive and fostering services, support services for children with disabilities and hospice care for babies, as well as improved care for women’s health before, during and after pregnancy.

Furthermore, the current crisis over cervical cancer screening mistakes and the ensuing tragedy for some families highlights the need for increased investment in women’s health in general. – Yours, etc,




The Methodist Church

in Ireland,


Sir, – My reasons for voting Yes on Friday 25th are simple. For the victims of rape and incest, for those who have endured the heartbreak of a fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis, and for those whose health is in danger, at the very time they need our support the most, we turn our backs on them.

Voting No will not stop Irish women procuring abortions. It will merely prevent them from having safe abortions, close to their homes and loved ones, close to their support. It stigmatises, isolates and distresses Irish women. They deserve much better. At the very least they deserve our trust. – Yours, etc,


Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

Sir, – I was surprised to read the claim (“Q&A: Your key questions answered from the abortion campaign”, May 21st) that “it is extremely difficult to identify a foetal abnormality, such as Down syndrome, within the first trimester of pregnancy”. I write as a “foetal abnormality” myself, who is glad I was born in an age when search-and-destroy technology did not enable my disability to be diagnosed nine to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. It does now.

Non-invasive pregnancy testing allows the detection of Down syndrome in the 10th week of pregnancy with 99 per cent accuracy.

When I was in Dublin last weekend, I was struck by the conspiracy of silence on the full consequences of a Yes vote for disabled human beings who, like me, have as much right to exist as any of your non-disabled readers. A Yes vote would deny us that right. A Yes vote is therefore a vote for discrimination. – Yours, etc,


House of Lords,


Sir, – I trained as a foetal medicine subspecialist for three years in the UK and returned to Ireland in September 2017. Before going to the UK I was apprehensive. I felt I was going into an environment where termination of pregnancy would be rampant, women may be rail-roaded into having terminations, that the most minor of abnormalities may be terminated, and I would be part of that process.

I was wrong. Over the three years of my foetal medicine training, we supported and cared for all women whose babies had developmental problems. Many women whose babies had a diagnosis of Down syndrome, Edwards syndrome, congenital heart disease and many more disorders were informed and supported and opted to carry their babies to term. While termination was an option, it was never advocated. In some instances babies born with serious lethal genetic conditions received medical intervention at the request of their parents, contrary to our medical advice. As doctors, my colleagues and I sometimes did not agree with this but parents were supported through these difficult times and our opinions remained that, our opinions.

Contrary to what I had thought, no-one was forced into termination. Everyone received compassionate care through a horrendously difficult time and each mother made an informed decision based on what she felt was the best for herself, her family and her baby.

Since returning home to work in Ireland many of my patients have travelled abroad for terminations. This is unsafe and wrong. Termination for some people may be barbaric but treating pregnant women at the most desperate time in their lives like we currently do is also barbaric, torturous and unsafe. Regardless of how these issues are portrayed, there are no happy endings for any of these women. There are no easy options.

The No campaign is one built of fear and mistruths. Please vote Yes and allow Irish pregnant women be informed and supported in Ireland, not exported when they become problems. Let our personal opinions about termination remain our personal opinions but let us as Irish society allow our health service provide our pregnant women with individualised, private, personal, compassionate care and, whatever their decision, support and care for them. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – A recurring theme from the Yes side is that greater support for pregnant women, better perinatal support and superior socio-economic supports for single parents will avoid the need for abortion. Indeed, it is disappointing, but only to be expected, that such supports were not put in place following the Eighth Amendment in 1983 or in the intervening 35-year period. There appears to be little political support now or in the future for such an enlightened policy of increased supports. Perhaps this may change.

It is a sad and hard reality that compelling socio-economic circumstances, in addition to threat to life and health, and pregnancy due to rape and incest, are a significant factor in the need for abortion. It is also a harsh reality that there is no current popular demand to do more in a practical and tangible way to assist pregnant women and single parents, such as support in education and assisting educational and work advancement for young pregnant women and young single parents. State-funded crèche facilities would be just one example.

That said, there is nothing to prevent a two-track approach. If the Eighth Amendment is repealed by the will of the voters, an enlightened approach would be for the Government promptly and decisively to devise and implement a comprehensive and radical policy though a variety of measures in the areas of health, education, social policy, child welfare and housing in order to make Ireland the best little country to raise a child. By so doing, the Government could compensate for the multiple negative factors present in Ireland which currently make it so financially and socially challenging, sometimes impossible, to raise a family, even more so in the case of single-parent families.

Constitutions and laws are not the real solution to the minimisation of the rate of abortion. Practical supports are the real and effective solution. It may be that we are content with the largely symbolic gesture of constitutional imperatives and draconian legislation but not so happy to pay the additional taxes required to fund the real and positive measures which will reduce the reluctant but inescapable need to avail of abortion.

Idealistic principles are one thing but, as from May 26th, will we see a popular clamouring for the enlightened practical measures needed to reduce the need for abortion? I suspect that we are simply content with the grand gestures, big in flourish but devoid of substance.

We have had 35 years since the Eighth Amendment in 1983 to do far more in a meaningful ways to help pregnant women and young mothers. If the Eighth Amendment is retained, abortions for Irish women will continue because hard and compelling reality trumps the Constitution in real life. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – After reading the many articles and letters in The Irish Times over the past few weeks, could I just commend the women who have recounted their stories of crisis pregnancies. It can't have been easy to share their deeply personal and very sad circumstances. As an emigrant I am not entitled to vote, but I want to send them my heartfelt sympathy and support. After the referendum, I hope that no Irish woman will have to make such a sad, lonely journey to England ever again. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The former chief justice Ronan Keane analysed the judgment of the Supreme Court in M v Minister for Justice and Equality and Ors (Opinion & Analysis, May 16th). He concluded that it was "misleading" to state that, if the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution is removed in the coming referendum, there will be no constitutional protection for the unborn. If this were true, the Referendum Commission which is charged with providing impartial and accurate information to the general public on the coming referendum, is misleading the public. On its website, the Commission states "(i)n summary, the Supreme Court decided that the only constitutional right of the unborn is the right to life which was created by Article 40.3.3."

In fact, the Commission is correct, as appears from the judgment of the Supreme Court itself, in which Chief Justice Clarke, delivering a judgment on behalf of the entire court, put the matter unequivocally: “that the only right of the unborn child as the Constitution now stands which attracts the entitlement to protection and vindication is that enshrined by the amendments in Article 40.3.3 namely the right to life, or in other words, the right to be born . . . neither the common law cases and statutory provisions, nor the pre- and post-Eighth Amendment cases relied on, when analysed and understood, support the High Court’s conclusions that the unborn possesses inherent constitutionally protected rights other than those expressly provided for in Art. 40.3.3.”

It is suggested that, were the Eighth Amendment repealed, it would be open to future courts to conclude that we had reverted to the position which obtained in 1983. Were such an approach to be taken, it would fly in the face of what the current Supreme Court has stated and also what the people would have decided. Unless the people vote No, the Eighth Amendment, in its entirety, will be replaced by a power to “regulate” the termination of pregnancy. In other words, they will have given their assent to the removal of all expressed constitutional protection of the unborn and the regulation of the circumstances in which the life of the unborn child can be ended.

In the absence of any right of the unborn, many rightly fear that that would leave no basis on which a court could “strike the correct balance between the right to life of the unborn and the constitutional rights of the mother, including not merely her right to life but also her right to health, bodily integrity, privacy and personal autonomy”.

In any challenge to the legislation, the maternal rights could be invoked to strike down any substantive restriction on access to abortion.

This is one of the reasons why so many of my colleagues have signed an analysis which highlights the proposal as unnecessary and profoundly unjust. Many voters will find guidance, not in these debates, but carefully reading material which the Referendum Commission and the Government have put in the public domain.

In fairness to the Government, it has already stated how it wishes to exercise the power to regulate abortion, if that power is given to it. The draft legislation refers to the termination of pregnancy being carried out not only up until 12 weeks, but also up until viability (that is up to six months) and in certain circumstances up until birth. It is to be assumed that the advice available to the Government is that providing abortion is such wide-ranging circumstances would pass constitutional muster. Nowhere in the draft legislation is there an obligation to deliver the unborn child after it is viable. Indeed, the draft legislation makes clear that termination of pregnancy is “a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the foetus” and the term “foetus” covers the period from implantation until “the complete emergence of the foetus from the body of the woman”.

These drafts are only drafts and one would hope that they will be amended or abandoned but, for many, they graphically illustrate that the current debate is not one about abstract legal points but about whether protection of the most basic right of all, the right to life, is going to be withdrawn from the weakest and most vulnerable among us. – Yours, etc,


(Retired Judge of

the High Court),


Co Meath.

Sir, – The issue of women’s reproduction does not belong in the Constitution. Legislation, by elected representatives, is how democracy works. That’s why it’s important to vote Yes on May 25th, so we can let democracy happen. – Yours, etc,