The Eighth Amendment


Sir, – A group of legal academics in English institutions (April 23rd) points to distinctions between the Government’s proposals for abortion, if the referendum is passed, and abortion in English law. It is true that there are some differences, but the more striking truth is that the Government’s proposals are so similar. One area of similarity, which has so far gone under the radar, is abortion of seriously disabled babies. Under England’s Abortion Act 1967, abortion may be carried out, up to birth, where “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”. The Oireachtas committee received evidence that in England foeticide is carried out on these children after 22 weeks. The English witness explained that a drug is administered to paralyse the baby, followed by an injection of either a local anaesthetic or potassium, which stops the heart.

I imagine that most readers of The Irish Times will assume that this practice would be unlawful under the Government’s proposals. Why, therefore, do these proposals specifically provide for the termination of the lives of some seriously disabled babies up to birth? Head 1 of the Government’s General Scheme provides that the expression “termination of pregnancy” is to mean “a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the foetus”. Delivering a baby in the period shortly before birth is not a “termination of pregnancy”: to fit within the definition, the intention must be to terminate the baby’s life.

When the chair of the Oireachtas committee, Senator Catherine Noone, noted that the English witness did not favour the use of the expression “fatal foetal abnormality” and asked him whether there was a more appropriate term “for people to use here”, he replied: “I would go with the UK terminology: ‘a substantial risk of serious handicap’.”

Perhaps Simon Harris should have paid closer attention to this evidence. Or – a more alarming possibility – perhaps he heeded it only too well. – Yours, etc,


Adjunct Professor of Law,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Patrick Burke (April 25th) is quite right to point out that if the Eighth Amendment is repealed by the people, the Oireachtas will be given the power to legislate on abortion.

The Oireachtas could in fact then repeal the current 2013 law that legislated for abortion in limited circumstances and pass a new law to outlaw abortion in all circumstances.

If the voters are unhappy with how their legislators legislate, they can elect new ones. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 1.

Sir, – Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan has been quoted as saying that the Constitution is not the place to deal with abortion. Of course, she’s right. Pregnancy and childbirth are highly complex processes, and caring for mothers and children in emergencies requires detailed medical guidelines. The Eighth Amendment makes no claim to be sufficient to this task. 

What it does, instead, is to establish the basic, fundamental principle that underlies any authentic obstetric healthcare in our republic: the principle according to which there are two living, rights-bearing patients in any pregnancy, both of whom are worthy of care. 

This is the kind of simple principle, along with the other guarantees of equality, that does indeed belong in our Constitution. – Yours, etc,


Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Sir, – It has been suggested that the referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment is being rushed in. That is hardly the case. It has come about through painstaking research and analysis, through hours and hours of deliberations and evidence presented first to the Citizens’ Assembly and subsequently the Joint Oireachtas Committee, and at this stage it is long overdue. On the other hand, the Eighth Amendment itself was rushed in during a period of political instability in 1983. It was a reactionary measure by a conservative elite in an attempt to counter developments seen in other western countries. And we’ve being paying for it for 35 years. The Eighth Amendment has had its day and it has failed us. We need change. – Yours, etc,


Kinsale, Co Cork.

Sir, – I cannot understand how Leo Varadkar can speak of “compassion” as he urges us to abolish the right to life of defenceless human beings who are developing towards birth. – Yours, etc,



A chara, – I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Referendum Commission has already got off to a bad start with the information it is providing to the general public on the upcoming referendum. The commission’s website boldly informs the public with one sentence that: “A referendum on the regulation of termination of pregnancy will be held on Friday, 25 May 2018.”

I believe that this statement is not accurate and only tells half the story. A referendum will be held primarily to remove the right to life of the unborn from the Constitution. Only then can provision be made for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.

I would be grateful if the Referendum Commission endeavoured to be more accurate in the information which it offers, without fear or favour, to the public. Political correctness or only telling half the story should not be a consideration in any of the commission’s pronouncements. – Is mise,


Drogheda, Co Louth.

Sir, – Vote Yes and leave the difficult decision in the hands of the person most qualified to make it, the woman, with the support of her doctor, and, hopefully, her family. – Yours, etc,