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The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland introduced a constitutional ban on abortion. It was effected by the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1983, which was approved by referendum on 7 September 1983 and signed into law on the 7 October of the same year.

The amendment was adopted during the Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government of Garret FitzGerald but was drafted and first suggested by the previous Fianna Fáil government of Charles Haughey. The amendment was supported by Fianna Fáil and some of Fine Gael, and was generally opposed by the political left. Most of those opposed to the amendment insisted that they were not, nonetheless, in favour of legalising abortion. The Catholic hierarchy spoke out in favour of the amendment, but it was opposed by the other mainstream churches. After an acrimonious referendum campaign, the amendment was passed by 67% voting in favour to 33% voting against.

Changes to the textEdit

The Amendment inserted a new sub-section after section 3 of Article 40. The resulting Article 40.3.3° 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, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

BackgroundEdit

In 1983, abortion was illegal in Ireland under the Offences against the Person Act 1861; the Eighth Amendment was introduced to prevent it being legalised at any time in the future. Opponents of abortion sought the amendment partly because of fears that the Irish Supreme Court might infer an implicit right to an abortion in the provisions of the constitution. The court had already ruled, in the 1973 case of McGee v. The Attorney General, that reference in Article 41 to the "imprescriptable rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law" of the family conferred upon spouses a broad right to privacy in marital affairs. It was feared that this right might be extended to include the right to an abortion. There was further concern that the Supreme Court might take its lead from developments in judicial review in other nations, such as the controversial ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade. In January 1973 The US Supreme Court decided in favour of abortion in Roe v. Wade on privacy grounds; the same grounds as was used by the Irish Supreme Court in December of the same year to strike down a statutory prohibition on the importation of contraceptives.

The campaign to introduce a constitutional ban on abortion so as to prevent an Irish Roe v. Wade was begun by a group of anti-abortion campaigners under the banner of the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC). Prior to the 1981 general election, PLAC lobbied all the major Irish political parties at the time – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party – to urge the introduction of a Bill to allow the amendment to the constitution to prevent the Irish Supreme Court so interpreting the constitution as giving a right to abortion. The leaders of the three parties – respectively Charles Haughey, Garret FitzGerald and Frank Cluskey – agreed although there was little consultation with any of their parties' ordinary members. All three parties were in government over the following eighteen months but it was only in late 1982, just before the collapse of a Fianna Fáil minority government, that a proposed wording for the amendment was produced.

Referendum campaignEdit

A referendum on the original wording took place in 1983. It was supported by PLAC, Fianna Fáil, some members of Fine Gael, the Roman Catholic hierarchy and opposed by various groups under the umbrella name of the Anti-Amendment Campaign (AAC), including Labour senator (and future President of Ireland) Mary Robinson, and feminist campaigners. Except for Garret FitzGerald, few in Fine Gael or Labour campaigned against the referendum. Sinn Féin and the Workers' Party strongly opposed the amendment and the Irish Council of Churches (representing the main Protestant churches) campaigned against it. The Amendment passed on 7 September 1983 endorsed by 67% of those who voted.

ResultEdit

Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland referendum
Choice Votes Percentage
Referendum passed Yes 841,233 66.90%
No 416,136 33.10%
Valid votes 1,257,369 99.32%
Invalid or blank votes 8,625 0.68%
Total votes 1,265,994 100.00%
Voter turnout 53.67%
Electorate 2,358,651
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