In Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution of Ireland (“the Eighth Amendment”) 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.”
The Eighth Amendment respects the right to life of mothers. As its wording makes clear, it protects the right to life of the unborn only to the extent that such protection is consistent with the right to life of the mother.
In the recent case of M –v- Minister for Justice and Equality, the Supreme Court has held that the rights of the unborn under the Constitution are limited to those rights which are acknowledged in the Eighth Amendment.
Accordingly, the repeal of the Eighth Amendment would entail the removal from the Constitution of the existing acknowledgment of the right to life of the unborn and the removal of constitutional protection for the unborn boy or girl in the womb.
If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, the Government has signalled its intention to place legislation before the Oireachtas. The proposed legislation would allow the life of the unborn to be ended for any reason up until twelve weeks, and far beyond that on grounds which have led to abortion on demand in other jurisdictions. In addition, such limitations on abortion as may be set in the legislation could be removed at any time without the consent of the People.
It is clear, therefore, that what is being proposed is not simply abortion in exceptional cases but a wide-ranging right to abortion.
Each person was, by definition, once unborn. As we mature, our capacity to assert and enjoy rights may increase over time. Likewise, our capacity may decrease due to serious illness, old age or other reason. At all stages, however, born and unborn, we remain the same human being with the same inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights. These human rights rest on the foundation-stone of the right to life. Life is the constant which makes the exercise of every other human right possible.
As lawyers drawn from every level of the profession, both currently in practice and those now working in other fields, we hope that, having considered what is at stake in the coming referendum and the far-reaching proposals of Government, our society will conclude that it would be profoundly unjust to withdraw the existing constitutional protections from the unborn child or to give Government the power that they seek to legislate in this area.