Today (7th March) the seven-judge Supreme Court has made the unanimous ruling that the unborn child does not have constitutional rights external to the right of life specified in the Eight Amendment.
The court has spent the past fortnight reviewing a High Court ruling from 2016 and has found that the High Court was incorrect to find the unborn has constitutional rights outside Article 40.3.3 and was also incorrect in finding that the unborn is a child within the meaning of Article 42a. It upheld the High Court’s ruling which found that the Minister for Justice should consider the prospective constitutional rights of an unborn Irish citizen child, in cases where the deportation of their non-Irish citizen parent is being considered.
Had the Supreme Court found that the rights extended beyond the Eighth Amendment, this could have caused a disruption to the scheduling of this summer’ planned referendum, as it may have had to be broadened to take in other elements of the constitution.
The Minister for Health, Simon Harris has noted the clarity provided by the Supreme Court today in its ruling and has stated that he is considering the judgement and and will await the advice of the AG before bringing a memo to Cabinet with the final wording of the Referendum Bill shortly.
Speaking this morning the Minister commented: “This Bill will contain the wording to be put to the people in a referendum at the end of May. I look forward to the people having their say on this very important issue”.
The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has welcomed the Cabinet’s approval of the wording for the referendum on the Eighth Amendment, calling it, “the chance to undo the damage caused 35 years ago when Article 40.3.3 was added to the Constitution”.
Since then, a reported minimum of 170,000 Irish women have travelled to the UK for abortion care.
Welcoming the announcement, IFPA Chief Executive Niall Behan said that the Eighth Amendment is harmful to pregnant women. He highlighted the difficulties it has created within Irish healthcare: “It is not good healthcare. It requires doctors, against their medical ethics, to override the wishes of a pregnant woman even when it is clear the pregnancy involves serious or permanent risk to the woman’s health. It requires medical professionals to set aside best medical practice.
“Under the Eighth Amendment, women have been denied care and abandoned by the state. By voting to repeal, we can right a historic wrong and ensure that women are supported to make a personal and private decision and to be cared for by the healthcare system of their own country”, Mr Behan concluded.