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Irish Parliament Committee rules out maintaining current abortion restrictions in full ahead of referendum

The Oireachtas (Irish legislature) Committee on Abortion has voted not to recommend the retaining of the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution in full ahead of the national referendum on reforming its strict abortion laws scheduled for the summer of 2018. The committee is responsible for recommending what question will be put forward in this referendum. Humanists UK welcomes this vote, which is a step in the right direction towards the realisation of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Ireland and will strengthen the case for equal access to abortion in Northern Ireland.

This vote, which passed with 15 votes in favour to only three opposed, means that retaining the current near absolute restriction on abortion will not be one of the proposals considered by the Irish government in the referendum. A further six options, including full repeal and repeal with new legislation, will now be put to the Irish Government in mid-December.

Under current law proscribed by the eighth amendment of the constitution, abortion in Ireland is illegal unless there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. A woman convicted of having an illegal termination can face up to 14 years in prison. Currently there are virtually no exceptions to the law on abortion, even when pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or in cases where there is a diagnosis to fatal foetal abnormality.

According to Ireland’s leading sexual health charity, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), thousands of women are forced annually to seek pregnancy terminations aboard. The IPFA have reported that between 1980 and 2016 at least 168,703 women and girls travelled to abortion clinics in England and Wales. Last year, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Ireland’s abortion laws are ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading’ and that forcing Irish women and girls to seek terminations abroad contravenes international human rights treaties. International outcry has been echoed in Ireland. In April this year, a Citizen’s Assembly, convened by the Government to suggest constitutional reforms and made up of 99 members of the public, voted to recommend that current abortion laws were reformed.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘This vote by the Oireachtas Committee on Abortion is a recognition that Ireland’s abortion laws run counter to international human rights standards, and at the very least reform, if not full repeal, is necessary. This recognition greatly strengthens the case for similar reform in Northern Ireland, which also maintains a strict prohibition on abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances. Next week, Humanists UK will be intervening in a case at the Supreme Court in London, which will seek to broaden the grounds in which a woman can access a legal abortion in the province to include circumstances of rape, incest or where there is a diagnosis of fatal fetal abnormality.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 0781 55 89 636, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on or on 07470 395090.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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