The Eighth Amendment


Sir, – Article 40 of the Constitution has the heading “Personal Rights” and is situated in a section entitled “Fundamental Rights”.

In this way, long before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated by the United Nations, the Irish people recognised the fundamental nature of rights such as the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to the privacy of one’s home and the right to freedom of speech.

Fundamental human rights are different from civil rights. While civil rights are the rights given by law to citizens in a particular society, fundamental human rights belong to every person simply because he or she is a person.

Fundamental human rights are not “given” by society and they cannot be taken away by society. Fundamental human rights are “acknowledged” in constitutions and charters and “vindicated” in the application of the law. They are what the United Nations refers to as the “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”.

Article 40.3.3, sometimes referred to as the Eighth Amendment, reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and vindicate that right.”

The deletion or amendment of Article 40.3.3 would serve no purpose other than to withdraw the right to life from some categories of unborn children. To do so would radically change the principle, for all unborn children and indeed for all of us, that the right to life is a fundamental human right.

During the current debate, some have argued that abortion itself is a human right. I see this view as inconsistent with the integral understanding of human rights.

I would point out that the European Convention on Human Rights requires that “everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law”.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. No distinction is made between born and unborn children.

In Article 40 3.3, the State does not concede the right to life to the unborn, but acknowledges that right as a fundamental right, which belongs to the unborn by virtue of his or her being a person. A person is an individual member of the human family, to use the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 40, 3.3 describes the right to life of the unborn as equal to the right to life of the mother. It quite rightly does not place the right to life of the unborn above that of the mother.

Article 40.3.3 does not guarantee, in all circumstances, to be able to defend and vindicate the right to life of the unborn, any more than it can in the case of people who are born and living in our towns and villages.

The State does, however, guarantee to respect the right to life of the unborn in its laws, just as it does in the case of other persons.

The right to life is unique, of course, because in the absence of that right, no other civil or natural right can be exercised, either now or in the future. – Yours, etc,



Co Offaly.

Sir, – We have heard and seen much in recent days of the UK abortion system, amid pleas to save us from introducing such a thing here in Ireland.

What the people making these pleas forget is that, for more than three decades, the UK regime has been all that was available to Irish women in need of abortion care.

The repeal of the Eighth Amendment would allow this country to put its own system in place, with all the safeguards and restrictions deemed necessary by our Oireachtas.

For once, an Irish solution to an Irish problem is the right thing to do. – Yours, etc,



Co Leitrim.

Sir, – There must have been a very selective high wind in Dunshaughlin last night as all the Yes referendum posters seem to have disappeared this morning. – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.

Sir, – In the past two weeks alone, representatives from four separate groups canvassing for support of the Eighth Amendment have called to my door to ask me to consider the precious value of the unborn. A strong argument indeed.

Is it not strange, then, that no-one in the past 25 years has asked me to support the repeal of the 13th Amendment, which places the right to travel over the right to life of the unborn? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 9.

Sir, – In his response to Áine Carroll’s opinion piece “Anti-abortion campaigners dodging the real question” (April 18th) , David Thunder, remarkably, continues to dodge the question (April 19th). Instead of actually stating what he would do about women who refuse to continue their pregnancy, he first proposes (unspecified) measures to reduce the number of such women in crisis, before finally concluding that “the law” must step in where those measures fail.

Left unexplained is how exactly the law should do this. Through enforcement of the present legislation, which could result in prison terms of up to 14 years for women who order abortion pills online? Through repeal of the 13th Amendment and internment of pregnant women who seek to travel?

Or would the letter-writer simply retain the status quo of a law which acts only to prevent the establishment of a regulated abortion service, without actually preventing or punishing the incidence of abortion?

These are critical questions which anti-repeal campaigners need to answer. We’re still waiting. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.