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The Abortion Referendum / Article
 



Chronology of the Abortion debate in Ireland


1861: Abortion is made a criminal offence in Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act.

Article 58: Every woman being with child, who with intent to procure her own miscarriage shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, and whomsoever, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall unlawfully administer to her or cause to be taken by her any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable. . . to be kept in penal servitude for life.

Article 59: Whomsoever shall unlawfully supply or procure any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable. . . to be kept in penal servitude.

1983: Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution is amended to read as follows:

"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.

1986: Justice Hamilton declares that the provision of information on how to obtain an abortion outside of the State is in breach of Article 40.3.3 as it undermines the right to life of the unborn.

1988: The Supreme Court confirms Justice Hamilton's decision.

1991: The European Court of Justice rules that while abortion is a service available under EC law, students unions in Ireland - facing an action from the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) to bar them from distributing information on how and where to obtain an abortion - could be prohibited from distributing such information because they had no financial links to the UK clinics providing the service.

1991: Ireland signs the Treaty on European Union at Maastricht. Ireland receives a guarantee that its strict abortion law will not be affected.

1992 (February): Justice Costello grants an injunction in the High Court preventing a 14-year-old girl, pregnant as a result of rape from traveling to the UK for an abortion. The matter had come to the attention of the then Attorney General, Mr Harry Whelehan, when the garda� were consulted about getting DNA samples in anticipation of criminal charges. He obtained the injunction to prevent her travelling. This was appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a majority of three to two, the court found that, if there was a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, and that this real and substantial risk could only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy, this would be lawful. It accepted that she had threatened to commit suicide if she had to carry the child to full term, and that this constituted a real and substantial risk to her life. The court lifted the injunction.

1992 (November): Two referendums are passed which amend Article 40.3.3 to protect the rights to travel and information.

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.

Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution is further amended and 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.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.

1995: The Regulation of Information Act is passed to lay down the conditions under which abortion information can be provided. Since the passing of the act information on abortion services can only be given within the context of counselling.

1997 (November): In the C Case another raped and pregnant teenager - in the care of the Eastern Health Board - seeks an abortion in the UK. This case differed from the X case in that her parents opposed her decision to travel to the UK for an abortion. They had sought an injunction preventing the board from taking her to the UK. Using the X judgment, Mr Justice Geoghegan ruled that she could travel. However, he added: "The amended Constitution does not now confer a right to abortion outside of Ireland. It merely prevents injunctions against travelling for that purpose."

1998: The Government establish an Inter-departmental Working Group on Abortion supervised by a cabinet sub-committee. Submissions close on March 28th.

1999 (September): Green Paper on Abortion published. Seven possible options are outlined.

The Government outlines seven possible constitutional and legislative approaches for discussion in the Green Paper on Abortion without recommending any one particular option. They are:

  1. An absolute constitutional ban on abortion;

  2. An amendment of the constitutional provisions so as to restrict the application of the X case;

  3. The retention of the status quo;

  4. The retention of the constitutional status quo with legislative restatement of the prohibition on abortion;

  5. Legislation to regulate abortion in circumstances defined by the X case;

  6. A reversion to the position as it pertained prior to 1983;

  7. Permitting abortion on grounds beyond those specified in the X case.

2000 (May, June, July):

Interested parties and organisations, including representatives from the medical profession, special interest groups and faith groups, are invited to address the All-Party Oireachtas Committee. Chaired by Fianna F�il TD Mr Brian Lenihan, it received more than 100,000 submissions.

2000 (November): All-Party Oireachtas Committee publishes its report. After nearly 12 months, the committee fails to reach a consensus outlining three different approaches, reflecting the views of Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna F�il.

Fine Gael's approach is to concentrate on a plan to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and to leave the legal position unchanged. This is based on the contention that constitutional and/or legislative measures would have no impact on abortions carried out in Ireland because none is.

The second option, favoured by the Labour Party, is to support the plan to reduce crisis pregnancies accompanied by legislation to protect medical intervention to safeguard the life of the mother within the existing constitutional framework.

Option three, put forward by Fianna F�il, is to support the plan to reduce crisis pregnancies and for a combination of referendum and legislation to allow for current medical practice excluding suicide.

2000 (November):

A Cabinet subcommittee on abortion convenes, chaired by the Minister for Health, Mr Martin. This subcommittee is to eventually make a recommendation to the Government.

2001 (October):

The Taoiseach announces his plan to hold a referendum to allow abortion in cases where a woman's life is at risk arising from pregnancy, but not where suicide is threatened.

2002 (February): Fianna Fail launches its abortion amendment campaign with the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill.

The referendum proposes to add two new sub-sections to Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. It acknowledges the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn. A new Article 40.3.4 states: "In particular, the life of the unborn in the womb shall be protected in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002." A new Article 40.3.5 proposes that this Act cannot be changed unless it is approved by the people in a new referendum. The main provisions of the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Bill are: The threat of suicide, based on the X case, will be removed as a ground for abortion; Abortion will be defined as the intentional destruction by any means of unborn human life after implantation in the womb. (This definition presumes that the IUD and the morning-after pill will have legal protection); A procedure carried out by a medical practitioner at an approved place - to be laid down by the Minister by regulation after the referendum - to prevent a real and substantial risk of the loss of a woman's life, other than by self-destruction, will not be regarded as an abortion; Anyone aiding or procuring an abortion will be liable for up to 12 years' imprisonment. The right to information and freedom to travel for an abortion are restated in the Bill.


 
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