The Eighth Amendment


Sir, – Regardless of Regina Doherty’s figure of “5,000 women every year” leaving our shores (“Repeal campaigners will not accept a No vote in referendum, says Minister”, News March 17th) “to make personal decisions for their own health and choices”, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution allows that they cannot be stopped. The majority of the public voted for this “freedom to travel” knowing full well that women were “travelling” who intended to have an abortion in another country. She now contends that it is not viable for the Government to “choose to ignore that any longer”. Is another referendum on the cards? – Yours, etc,



Co Wexford.

Sir, – There are now three options on the table for the referendum on abortion.

1) Retain the Eighth Amendment. You take the view that the unborn baby (no matter what stage it is at in its development) has fundamentally the same rights as its mother (on whom it is dependent, in utero). You think every case should be assessed individually on the medical needs of both mother and baby with a belief that a choice will never have to be made in terms of one being more important than the other. You trust our doctors can make medical decisions under such a system. You understand that there will inevitably be more X, Y, Z and A, B, C cases.

2) You believe that the Eighth Amendment will continue to throw up problems in the “hard cases” of rape, fatal foetal abnormalities, cancer, suicide. You believe that the Eighth Amendment should be repealed with a proposal for legislation putting conditions on when an abortion is permitted (by listing all the “hard cases” that might emerge). You believe that a rape accusation can be proved (or disproved) in a couple of weeks to allow for the “rape” condition to kick in and an abortion to be carried out. You understand that a constitutional debate is being transferred to a legislative debate. You understand there will inevitably be more X, Y, Z and A, B, C cases.

3) You believe that the Eighth Amendment is flawed and should be repealed with a legislative framework of unconditional permission for termination of pregnancies up to 12 weeks. After the 12-week limit you believe there should be conditions and limitations on abortion. You believe that it should only be the most exceptional circumstances that anyone has the right to end a pregnancy after 12 weeks. You understand this will be for the courts to decide and the law will evolve on a case by case basis. You understand that there will inevitably be more X, Y, Z and A, B, C cases.

I respect the first view as a fundamental belief that some people hold. I have difficulty with the second view as it transfers the current problems from the constitution to the legislature. Same problems, different part of the legal system.

I agree with the third view. I am pro-repeal and pro choice up to 12 weeks pregnancy; and pro-life after 12 weeks. If exceptional cases occur after 12 weeks (as they inevitably will) then I will trust the jurisprudence of the Irish courts in the complex matter of women and pregnancy in Ireland. – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – There is a perception that the Eighth Amendment impacts adversely on the work of clinicians in caring for pregnant women and on the right to life of expectant mothers. This is not the case and some of the words in Article 40.3.3 are overlooked in public debates about it. These words are “as far as practicable”.

Clinical expertise and skills in obstetrics, gynaecology, nursing and midwifery are the practical manifestation of the State’s guarantee to defend and vindicate the right to life of the mother and her unborn child “as far as practicable”. The Eighth Amendment has always been a secure foundation for those exercising good clinical judgment in the care and treatment of both mother and unborn child during pregnancy, including pregnant women at risk of clinical deterioration, notwithstanding the rare occasions and cases resulting in poor outcomes.

A safe maternity service is one where clinicians respect and value both lives: the life of the mother and the life of the developing unborn baby, “as far as practicable”. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.