The Eighth Amendment


Sir, – I agree with William Reville’s observation that both the Taoiseach and Micheál Martin’s sudden reversal of their position on abortion is non-evolutionary (February 19th).

To me, as a non-practising biochemist, their change in thinking appears more like a mutation caused by the fast insertion of a new way of thinking. Politics, like evolution, is after all the story of those who survive change. – Yours, etc,


Lucan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Prof William Reville (February 19th) relies on a secondary meaning of “evolve” in taking Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin to task over their use of this word. The professor defines “evolve” in its biological sense only, although that use of “evolve” and “evolution” came into general use only from the 1830s. It is through observation of biological evolution, which may be slow, that any sense of time has become attached to the word.

Although I am not a biologist, I understand that Prof Reville may be mistaken in saying that a “defining characteristic of evolution is that all changes happen slowly and gradually”. Consider the sometimes extremely rapid evolution (in the biological sense) of bacteria, for example.

The root meaning of “evolve” is to unroll, to unfurl, to open out, to expand, or to disentangle (Shorter Oxford Dictionary, 1984). The word is derived from the Latin evolvo, which means “to roll out”, or “to unfold”. Cicero (De Officiis, 3: 76) used evolvere to describe turning over or opening up a multilayered idea (... si qui voluerit animi sui complicatam notionem evolvere…).

Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin turned over in their minds the complicated facts concerning the Eighth Amendment, and all the consequences of repealing it. As a result of this thoughtful process, views that they previously held were opened out and modified. Both used the term “evolved” in a correct manner. – Yours etc,


Ballydehob, Co Cork.

A chara, – As a mother who is very much in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment, I’d like to clarify that those of us who want to repeal are not seeking to remove the right of a person to continue a pregnancy regardless of their circumstances.

We do not want anyone to ever be forced into aborting a pregnancy against their will; we are simply asking for the right to choose for ourselves and for the ability to access it in our own country should we feel it is necessitated by our own individual situations. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.