Judgment removes uncertainty about constitutional status of unborn

Government steps up efforts to keep abortion vote on track

The Supreme Court of Ireland [website] ruled [judgment] Wednesday that unborn children are not offered additional protections apart from the right to life in the Eighth Amendment [text] to the Constitution of Ireland.

"The Court has made it clear that unborn babies, up to birth, would have no constitutional protection against the legislation that the Government intends to introduce".

"The Constitution is not the place to deal with this issue - and that is why we are proposing a referendum", he said.

The Eighth Amendment of Ireland's legal framework enshrines the right to life of the unborn - a provision that renders abortion illegal other than in exceptional circumstances.

He said the bill would be introduced into the Dail as soon as possible with the intention of formally establishing a referendum commission in the coming days.

Those opposed to the liberalisation of laws have said that the arguments used to defend abortion could one day be used to justify ending the lives of the disabled, or frail older people.

The observations included remarks by the Supreme Court's Mr Justice Brian Walsh, in his judgment on the landmark McGee case of 1974 which held the right to marital privacy was breached by a law criminalising the importation of contraceptives in Ireland, that any action to limit family size by endangering or destroying human life must be an offence "against the guaranteed personal rights of the human life in question".

They submitted the minister must consider an unborn child's existing or prospective rights in such an immigration case.

They also said it would be "a shocking step" and "a manifest injustice" to the unborn.

Currently, terminations are only allowed when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

Voters will be asked to decide if the Eighth Amendment (article 40.3.3) should be replaced with a new provision that allows the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion. "If the case is delayed further then we have a problem".

The Government will now finalise the wording for the referendum.

"If you believe there needs to be change in this area in this country - you need to repeal the Eighth Amendment", he said.

If they had found the rights extended beyond the Eighth Amendment, the referendum might have needed to be broadened to take in other elements of the constitution - a move that could have disrupted the timetable for holding the vote.

The report stated that Constitutional provision prohibiting the termination of pregnancy in Ireland was unfit for objective and in need of reform.

The judgment is set to smooth the path for the Government's planned referendum on Ireland's restrictive abortion laws this summer.

"We look forward to seeing the Government's legislation later this week, and to the debate in the Dáil on Friday".

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