It has been almost 35 years since the Irish public voted to enter the Eighth Amendment into the Constitution giving the mother and the unborn an equal right to life.
Since then, there have been four other abortion referendums, which gave women the right to travel and the right to information.
During a lengthy cabinet meeting last night, ministers came to a unanimous decision to propose a “repeal and replace” referendum on abortion.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar explained during a press conference that in accordance with the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, legislation will be introduced to allow for abortion on request up to 12 weeks.
As part of the speech, Varadkar said: “(the referendum is) a decision about whether we want to continue to stigmatise & criminalise our sisters, our co-workers, our friends. Or whether we are prepared…. to show empathy and compassion”.
In terms of legislation, it will be a complex process. The Government stated its intention to insert a new ‘enabling clause’ to the Constitution. The details of this have yet to be released.
In relation to this, the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment released a statement:
“It is the Government’s intention to propose new wording for insertion in the Constitution, which would explicitly empower the Oireachtas to legislate for the provision of abortion in Ireland. It is our view that given the historically complicated nature of the debate on the issue in Ireland, the Government has an obligation to explain the reasons for inserting a new ‘enabling clause’ in the Constitution in the clearest possible terms.”
The Abortion Rights Campaign also released a statement regarding the Constitutional element:
“We would still prefer if abortion care was not singled out in our Constitution, but we are willing to support this provision, if worded properly, and heed the legal advice given by the Attorney General.
Campaigners have cautiously welcomed the announcement and have stated that they will be keeping a close watch on proceedings over the following months.
The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) today welcomed the Government’s “repeal and enact” proposal.
Spokesperson Linda Kavanagh said:
Modern, accessible and compassionate abortion care must be a guaranteed outcome of the referendum passing – that is non-negotiable.
“While ARC has always campaigned for repeal simpliciter as advised by the Joint Oireachtas Committee, it appears that the enabling provision proposed by the Government will remove the constitutional barrier to abortion care and allow for more progressive and compassionate healthcare to be provided for all those who can get pregnant.
“However we will be watching the Government very closely and encouraging our members and supporters to do the same in the weeks ahead with regards to the wording of a referendum bill and the proposed legislation. Generations of people have fought too long and too hard for change in our abortion laws, and we will not accept any fudges or half-measures. Modern, accessible and compassionate abortion care must be a guaranteed outcome of the referendum passing – that is non-negotiable.
“We are looking forward to an energetic, compassionate, and respectful referendum campaign. We are repealing the 8th Amendment because we want an Ireland where everyone has access to compassionate, timely, local healthcare.”
Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), said
“It is an acknowledgement that the Constitution is no place for meeting the complexities of women’s needs in pregnancy and that we must allow doctors to apply best medical practice and care for all of their patients in this country without fear of prosecution.”
There were also many reactions across Twitter from organisations and campaigners about the announcement:
— Ailbhe Smyth (@ailbhes) January 29, 2018
“We welcome the Cabinet’s formal agreement this evening to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment and the Taoiseach’s announcement that he will be campaigning to #repealthe8th. This is a momentous point in our campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment." @ailbhes pic.twitter.com/HegTWFLHM7
— RepealEight (@repealeight) January 29, 2018
As an Independent Woman sitting at the cabinet table I believe we have reached a significant moment. The way has been cleared for the people to have their say on the 8th amendment #repealthe8th
— Katherine Zappone (@KZapponeTD) January 29, 2018
All of us know many women, family and friends, who, this evening, feel a little less othered and abandoned by the Irish state. It’ll be a tough old slog but it’s for those women in my life, and for all of our daughters who may face similar hardships, that I’ll be canvassing.
— OONAGH (@oonaghmurphy) January 29, 2018
We CAN do this. We'll have the chats we need to have with friends, neighbours, family & colleagues. We'll not get distracted by the TV and radio debates which will be boring and predictable. We'll change hearts and minds quietly behind the scenes, Let's go #repealthe8th https://t.co/RhgWXHtBuk
— Roisin Ingle (@roisiningle) January 29, 2018
Support and solidarity to all Irish sisters and siblings in their fight to #RepealThe8th in May. The autonomy of all women – not just those with resources and relative privileges – to determine their own destiny ought to be championed in all forms and protected in law. ✊?
— shon faye (@shonfaye) January 29, 2018
From our 40+ years experience supporting women by providing contraception and #crisispregnancy services, we can say with absolute certainty that NO woman ever chooses to have an abortion lightly. It's time to #TrustWomen. Time to #repealthe8th. pic.twitter.com/PqFrGaEOwA
— Dublin Well Woman (@dublinwellwoman) January 30, 2018
I'm overwhelmed by last night's news. Thank you to those courageous women who've been fighting for 4 decades for Irish women to have rights over their own bodies. Thank you for pushing against the shaming, the silencing, the denouncing and for never giving up
— Marian Keyes (@MarianKeyes) January 30, 2018
Time to remember it's not just this generation that has won a referendum to #repealthe8th. It's been 40 years of heavy, heavy lifting, of hard slog by giants of women and men. Mary Holland, Ruth Riddick, Anne-Marie Hourihan, @gorettihorgan . Icing now being put on cake.
— Kitty Holland (@KittyHollandIT) January 30, 2018
"We're asking people to trust women" Leo Varadkar, 29.01.18
I am gobsmacked. #repealthe8th
— Emer O'Toole (@Emer_OToole) January 30, 2018
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