Oireachtas report proposes to legalise abortion up to 12 weeks without restriction

Ireland will hold a referendum on abortion in late May and, despite the lack of a verdict, one report from the Oireachtas Committee is already proposing to legalise abortion before or at 12 weeks without restriction. The consequences of such a law could be disastrous.

Against abortion on demand up to 12 weeks in Ireland

On Monday 29 January 2018, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that Ireland will hold a referendum on abortion in late May.[1] The electorate will vote on whether to repeal or retain the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The Eighth Amendment is as follows:[2]

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.

Given that the Eighth Amendment acknowledges the equal right to life of mother and child, presently, abortion is illegal in Ireland except in cases where the life of the mother is sufficiently at risk. Varadkar has defended the repeal by claiming that ‘We already have abortion in Ireland, but it is unsafe, unregulated and unlawful…’. But substituting ‘abortion’ with ‘theft’ (or any other illegality in Ireland) should be enough to expose the absurdity of such a defence.

Furthermore, Attorney General Séamus Woulfe has argued that if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, then it should be amended to give the Oireachtas Éireann free-rein to legislate for abortion. For merely repealing the Eighth Amendment would not necessarily be enough to legalise abortion. After all, it may be possible to guarantee the right to life of ‘the unborn’ under other articles of the Constitution.[3]

Despite the lack of a verdict, the Oireachtas Committee is already proposing to legalise abortion before or at 12 weeks with no restrictions, and after 12 weeks with some restrictions. This law would allow for babies to be aborted because they are male or female, or diagnosed with Down-syndrome.

The proposed law would also be highly objectionable when one considers the unborn baby’s development at 12 weeks. The N.H.S. Pregnancy and Baby Guide describes the 12-week-old fetus as ‘fully formed’ and needing only to ‘grow and mature’.[4] For all the bones, limbs, muscles, and organs are already in place. A baby at this stage of development has fingernails and fingerprints, and can even kick, suck, and yawn.

It is clear, then, that a 12-week-old unborn baby is not merely a growth of tissue like a polyp or tumour – he/she is living member of the species ‘homo-sapiens’. In other words, he/she is a biological human being and, therefore, entitled to the same Human Rights as the rest of humanity. This Life holds to be the moral status of every human being regardless of the stage of development. Unfortunately, many proponents of repealing the Eighth Amendment will ignore the question of moral status, and instead make the referendum a question of individual liberty. But one cannot merely assume that the pre-born do not have a right to life. For if the pre-born do, in fact, have a right to life, then abortion is not a private matter of moral opinion. On the contrary, abortion would be the termination of an innocent human life and, therefore, a public matter falling well within legal jurisdiction.  This is illustrated in the preamble of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child:[5]

[T]he child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection before as well as after birth.

Consequently, proponents of the repeal shoulder this burden of proof: They must show why they feel that the pre-born do not have a right to life. The moral status of the pre-born, then, is a question that cannot be left unanswered.


[1] Ireland Abortion Referendum Set for May. (2018). BBC News. Retrieved 2 February 2018, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-42868035

[2] Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1983, Schedule. (2018). Irishstatutebook.ie. Retrieved 2 February 2018, from http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1983/ca/8/schedule/enacted/en/html#sched-part1

[3] AG Advised a ‘Simple Repeal’ Might be Argued in Courts. (2018). RTE.ie. Retrieved 2 February 2018, from https://www.rte.ie/news/2018/0130/936946-eighth-amendment-cabinet-referendum/

[4] You and Your Baby at 9-12 Weeks Pregnant. (2018). NHS.uk. Retrieved 2 February 2018, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pregnancy-weeks-9-10-11-12/

[5] UNICEF Turkey / Resources / Convention on the Rights of the Child / Preamble. (2018). Unicef.org. Retrieved 2 February 2018, from https://www.unicef.org/turkey/crc/cr23b.html

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