History of Abortion in Ireland

2018

May 2018: On a monumental day for reproductive rights in Ireland, a referendum is held to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution – Article 40.3.3 – and allow for the Oireachtas to legislate on abortion. Turnout for the vote on 25th May is 64.1%; the total valid poll is 2,153,613, with 1,429,981 voting Yes to repeal the Eighth Amendment and 723,632 voting against. Repeal passes with a landslide of 66%.

March 2018: The Thirty Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018, which would amend Article 40.3.3 and allow for the legislation of abortion is published on March 7th. The Bill passes the first stage in the Dáil with a majority 110 to 32 on March 22nd. It then progresses to the Committee stage where it passes and is sent to the Seanad for consideration. With the Bill passing the Government is on target for a Referendum to be held on May 25th, 2018.

On March 8ththe Department of Health Policy Paper on the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy  is published and outlines 21 policy issues the Government decided it would seek to give effect to in a General Scheme of a Bill regulating termination of pregnancy in Ireland should the proposed referendum be passed.

January 2018: On January 29th, the Cabinet give formal approval to the holding of a referendum on abortion which will be held in late May or early June 2018. The decision by the Cabinet gives approval to the Minister for Health to prepare a Referendum Bill to amend the Constitution.

2017

September – December 2017: The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution meet several times to discuss the recommendations which arose from the Citizen’s Assembly and other issues relating to the Eighth Amendment. On the 20th December the Committee release their final report. Recommendations include:

  • Termination of pregnancy should be lawful where the life or health of the woman is at risk and that a distinction should not be drawn between the physical and mental health of the woman,
  • Provision for gestational limits for termination of pregnancy should be guided by the best available medical evidence and be provided for in legislation, and
  • Any assessments in relation to the termination of pregnancy where the life or the health of the woman is at risk should be made by no fewer than two specialist physicians
  • That it shall be lawful to terminate a pregnancy without gestational limit where the unborn child has a foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth.
  • The law should not provide for the termination of pregnancy on the ground that the unborn child has a significant foetal abnormality where such abnormality is not likely to result in death before or shortly after birth.
  • The law should be amended to permit termination of pregnancy with no restriction as to reason provided that it is availed of through a GP-led service delivered in a clinical context as determined by law and licencing practice in Ireland with a gestational limit of 12 weeks.

August 2017:The United Nations Committee Against Tortureexpresses concern at the “severe physical and mental anguish and distress experienced by women and girls regarding termination of pregnancy due to the State policies”.

June 2017: The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, tasked with considering the report and recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, meets for the first time. The Committee is comprised of 15 members of Dáil Éireann and 6 members of Seanad Éireann.

The UN Human Rights Committee holds that Ireland’s criminalisation and prohibition of abortion violated Siobhán Whelan’s rights.

The Minister for Health reports that 25 “terminations” were carried out in Irish hospitals in 2016 under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. One was carried out based on the risk to the life of the woman by suicide, eight due to the risk from physical illness and 16 based on an emergency situation from physical illness.

April 2017:At its final meeting on the Eighth Amendment, the Citizens’ Assembly agrees by an overwhelming majority (87%) that Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution should not be retained in full. In subsequent votes, 56% of Assembly members vote that Article 40.3.3 should be replaced or amended, and 57% vote for a replacement of Article 40.3.3 with a constitutional provision authorising the Oireachtas to legislate. The final vote shows very strong support for progressive regulation of abortion with 64% voting in favour of access to abortion with no restriction as to reason. In addition, a majority of Members recommended 12 reasons, for which termination of pregnancy should be lawful in Ireland.

      • Real and substantial physical risk to the life of the woman (99%)
      • Real and substantial risk to the life of the woman by suicide (95%)
      • Serious risk to the physical health of the woman (93%)
      • Serious risk to the mental health of the woman (90%)
      • Serious risk to the health of the woman (91%)
      • Risk to the physical health of the woman (79%)
      • Risk to the mental health of the woman (78%)
      • Risk to the health of the woman (78%)
      • Pregnancy as result of rape (89%)
      • The unborn child has a foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth (89%)
      • The unborn child has a significant foetal abnormality that is not likely to result in death before or shortly after birth (80%)
      • Socio-economic reasons (72%)

In an additional question on the ballot, 72% of Members recommended that a distinction should not be drawn between the physical and mental health of the woman.

March 2017:A Private Members Bill to reduce the penalty for abortion outside the terms of the 2013 Act from 14 years in prison to a €1 fine is rejected in the Dáil. A government countermotion states that the Citizens’ Assembly must be allowed to conclude its deliberations on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland prior to further consideration of potential legislative change.

February 2017:The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) criticises Ireland’s abortion laws. The Committee voices particular concern at the criminal provisions that maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

2016

November 2016:The government makes an ex gratia payment of €30,000 to a woman, Amanda Mellet, in acknowledgment of the ruling of the UN Human Rights Committee in June 2016 that the denial of abortion services subjected a woman to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and violated her right to privacy.

October 2016:The inaugural meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly takes place on October 15 and is  chaired by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy.

A Private Members Bill to repeal Article 40.3.3 (the Eighth Amendment) of the Constitution by referendum is put before the Dáil. The Bill is defeated by a government countermotion which states that the Citizens’ Assembly must be allowed to conclude its deliberations.

July 2017: A Private Members Bill to legislate for abortion in cases of fatal foetal anomaly is rejected by 95 votes to 45.

June 2016:The Minister for Health reports that 26 terminations were carried out in Irish hospitals in 2015 under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. Three were carried out based on the risk to the life of the woman by suicide, 14 due to the risk from physical illness and nine based on an emergency situation from physical illness.

June 2016:The UN Human Rights Committee finds that Ireland’s abortion laws violated Amanda Mellet’s right to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as her right to privacy.

May 2016:In the Programme for a Partnership Government, the new Government commits to establishing, within six months, a Citizens’ Assembly which will be asked to make recommendations on the Eighth Amendment.

During Ireland’s second Universal Periodic Review, the country’s restrictive abortion laws are the main issue of concern for UN member states. 15 countries issue recommendations to reform Ireland’s abortion laws: Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, India, Republic of Korea, Lithuania, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay. The United States, France and Canada also issue recommendations on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

January 2016: The UN Commitee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) expresses a number of concerns regarding the impact of Ireland’s abortion laws on girls’ human rights. Its Concluding Observations, recommend that the Government:

“Decriminalise abortion in all circumstances and review its legislation with a view to ensuring children’s access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services; and ensure that the views of the pregnant girl are always heard and respected in abortion decisions”

2015

June 2015:The Minister for Health, reports that 26 “terminations” were carried out in Irish hospitals in 2014 under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. Three were carried out based on the risk to the life of the woman by suicide, 14 due to the risk from physical illness, and nine based on an emergency situation from physical illness. Earlier in the year, serious breaches of patient confidentiality are reported in the process through which “terminations of pregnancy” under the Act are notified to the Minister for Health.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) criticises Ireland’s “highly restrictive” abortion laws and urges the Government to amend the legislation and Constitution.

May 2015:A Private Members Bill to repeal Article 40.3.3 (the Eighth Amendment) of the Constitution is put before the Dáil. The Bill is rejected (74 TDs vote against the Bill and 23 TDs vote in favour).

February 2015:A Private Members Bill to legislate for abortion in cases of fatal foetal anomaly is put before the Dáil. The Bill is rejected (104 TDs vote against the Bill and 20 TDs vote in favour).

2014

December 2014: A Private Members Bill to repeal Article 40.3.3 (the Eighth Amendment) of the Irish Constitution is put before the Dáil. The Bill is rejected.

September 2014:Guidance Document for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is published. The document appears to be more restrictive than the Act itself and is entirely procedural, offering no clinical guidance beyond the language contained within the Act.

August 2014:Concerns are raised about the adequacy of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act after a young migrant woman, known as Ms Y, who was pregnant as a result of rape, sought an abortion on grounds of suicide under the 2013 Act but was subsequently delivered of her baby by caesarean section.

July 2014:The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) criticises Ireland’s abortion laws and urges legislative and constitutional change to bring these laws in line with human rights standards.

January 2014:On 01 January, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 is brought into operation by a commencement order. The Act retains the criminalisation of abortion in Ireland and permits abortion only where there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman. The relevant sections of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 are repealed by the Act.

2013

July 2013: President Michael D. Higgins signs the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act into law. The Act is intended to implement the 1992 judgment of the Supreme Court in the X case and the 2010 ECtHR in the case of A, B and C v Ireland and provide for lawful access to abortion where a pregnant woman’s life is risk. 25 public hospitals are listed as appropriate institutions where a termination can be carried out.

January – May 2013:The Oireachtas Health Committee holds public hearings into the report of the expert group established to advise the Government on the implementation of A, B and C v Ireland. Experts from the medical and legal fields and representatives of advocacy organisations are heard.

2012

  • November 2012:The report of the expert group, appointed by the Government to advise on options for the implementation of the ECtHR judgment in the case of A, B and C v Ireland,is published. The report is limited to the narrow grounds of the Court’s finding of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and expresses doubt that any option short of legislation will give effect to the right to an abortion where there is risk to a woman’s life to the satisfaction of the ECtHR .

November 2012:A Private Members Bill to implement the X case is put before the Dáil. The Bill is rejected (101 TDs vote against the Bill and 27 TDs vote in favour).

October 2012:Savita Halappanavar dies in Galway University Hospital in circumstances where she was refused a termination during inevitable miscarriage because a foetal heartbeat was detectable. The report into her death found over-emphasis on the need not to intervene until the foetal heart stopped, together with under-emphasis on managing the risk of infection and sepsis.

April 2012:A Private Members Bill to implement the X case is put before the Dáil. The Bill is rejected (110 TDs vote against the Bill, and 20 TDs vote in favour).

2011

June 2011:The Government establishes an expert group will be established to advise on the implementation of the ECtHR judgment in A, B and C v Ireland.

During Ireland’s first Universal Periodic Review, the country’s restrictive abortion laws are the main issue of concern for UN member states. Six countries issue recommendations to reform Ireland’s abortion laws: Norway, Denmark, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

2010

  • In the case of A, B and C v Ireland, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR unanimously rules that Ireland’s failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion when a woman’s life is at risk violates Applicants C’s rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court also ruled that the three women challenging Ireland’s ban on abortion did not have an effective remedy available to them under the Irish legal system in theory or in practice. The three women lodged their complaint with the ECtHR in August 2005 and an oral hearing of the case was heard before the Grand Chamber of 17 Judges on December 9, 2009. The women, known as A, B and C to protect their confidentiality, argued that Ireland has breached their human rights under Articles 2 (Right to Life), 3 (Prohibition of Torture), 8 (Right to Respect for Family and Private Life) and 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

  • Michelle Harte, who became pregnant whilst receiving treatment for cancer, is forced to travel to the UK for an abortion whilst severely ill. Although her doctors had advised her to terminate the pregnancy because of the risk to her health, Cork University Hospital refused to authorise an abortion on the basis that her life was not under “immediate threat”.  Michelle Harte dies from cancer in 2011.

2007

  • A 17-year-old known as Miss D, who is in the care of the State, discovers she has an anencephalic pregnancy and wishes to terminate the pregnancy. Although it seems that the Health Service Executive (HSE) try “to shoehorn her case into the grounds set out in the X case”, Miss D refuses to say she is suicidal. The HSE writes to the Gardaí to request that they arrest Miss D if she attempts to leave the country. The HSE also requests that the Passport Office refuse to issue her with a passport. Miss D goes to High Court to force the HSE to allow her to travel to obtain an abortion. In the High Court, Mr Justice McKechnie rules that she has a right to travel.


2006

  • The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rules D v Ireland inadmissible because the case did not go through the Irish Courts. The Irish Government relies on the argument that in the Applicant’s particular circumstances, she could have been legally entitled to an abortion in Ireland should she have gone through the Irish courts system. The Applicant, known as D, argued that Ireland’s ban on abortion in the case of fatal foetal anomalies violated her rights under Articles 1, 3, 8, 20, 13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.


2002

  • Irish voters reject the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, which would remove the threat of suicide as a ground for abortion and increase the penalties for helping a woman have an abortion. Voter turnout is 42.89% of total electorate, with 50.42% vote against and 49.58% vote in favour.

2001

  • The Department of Health and Children establishes the Crisis Pregnancy Agency to prepare and implement a strategy to address the issue of crisis pregnancy in Ireland, as recommended by the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution’s Fifth Progress Report on Abortion.

The strategy is to provide for:

– a reduction in the number of crisis pregnancies by the provision of education, advice and contraceptive services;
– a reduction in the number of women with crisis pregnancies who opt for abortion by offering services and supports which make other options more attractive;
– the provision of counselling and medical services after crisis pregnancy.

2000

  • The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan, publishes its Fifth Progress Report: Abortion. The 700 page report is a political assessment of the issues raised in the Green Paper on Abortion, submissions received and hearings conducted. The views of women who have had abortions are not heard. The Committee fails to reach a political consensus on the substantive legal issues of abortion but agrees on a strategy to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies. The report further recommends the establishment of a dedicated agency under the Department of Health and Children to implement the strategy. The report is sent to a Cabinet Subcommittee chaired by the Minister for Health and Children Michael Martin for consideration.


1999

  • The Cabinet Committee, chaired by Minister for Health and Children, Brian Cowen, publishes a Green Paper on Abortionprepared by an Interdepartmental Working Group. The Green Paper aims to set out the issues surrounding abortion, provide a brief analysis and to consider possible options available. It is a discussion document and not a policy document.

1997

  • A 13 year old girl, known as Miss C, is raped and becomes pregnant. The Eastern Health Board takes C into its care and in accordance with the girl’s wishes, obtains orders from the District Court to take C abroad for an abortion. C’s parents challenge these orders in the High Court case A and B v Eastern Health Board. District Court Judge Mary Fahy and Mr Justice Geoghegan rule that as Miss C is likely to take her own life if forced to continue with the pregnancy, she is entitled to an abortion in Ireland by virtue of the Supreme Court judgment in the 1992 X Case.

1996

  • The Constitution Review Group recommendsthe introduction of legislation covering matters such as the definition of “unborn”, protection for appropriate medical intervention, certification of “real and substantial risk to the life of the mother” and a time limit on lawful abortion.

1995

  • The Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for the Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995 is enacted. The Act allows doctors, advisory agencies and individual counsellors to give information on abortions services abroad should a woman request it. However, the Act requires any information on abortion services be provided along with information on parenting and adoption and may only be given the context of one to one counselling. The Act also prohibits service providers (including doctors) from making an appointment for an abortion in another state on behalf of their client. Advisory agencies, doctors and counsellors that do not provide information on abortion services abroad but do engage in pregnancy counselling are not subject to the provisions of the Act.

1992

  • As a result of the X casejudgment and the issues relating to travelling and information on abortion, the Government puts forward three possible amendments to the Constitution in a referendum.

The three amendments include:
– The freedom to travel outside the State for an abortion – passed
– The freedom to obtain or make available information on abortion services outside the State, subject to conditions – passed
– To roll back the X Case judgment in order to remove suicide as a grounds for abortion in Ireland – rejected

  • In the case of Open Door and Well Woman v Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights rules that Ireland violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of expression. The Court finds that the Irish Courts’ injunction against Open Door and Well Woman from receiving or imparting information on abortion services legally available in other countries is disproportionate and created a risk to the health of women seeking abortions outside the State.
  • The Supreme Court rules in Attorney General v Xthat a 14 year old girl, known as X, pregnant as a result of rape, faces a real and substantial risk to her life due to threat of suicide and this threat can only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy. Therefore, X is entitled to an abortion in Ireland under the provision of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution that requires the State to have “due regard to the equal right to life of the mother”.

The Court does not consider that abortion can be permitted only where the risk is of immediate or inevitable death of the pregnant woman, as this would insufficiently protect her right to life.

The law is now clear that termination of pregnancy should be considered a medical treatment whether the risk to the life of a pregnant woman arises on physical or mental health grounds. Risk to life does not have to be a virtual certainty. But risk to physical or mental health alone is not sufficient.

1991

  • Upon the request of the Irish High Court in relation to the 1989 case to prevent student groups distributing information on abortion services in the UK, the European Court of Justice rules in SPUC v Grogan that abortion could constitute a service under the Treaty of Rome (Treaty of the European Economic Community) and therefore a Member State could not prohibit the distribution of information by agencies having a commercial relationship with foreign abortion clinics. However, the Court also rules that since the student groups have no direct links with abortion services outside of Ireland, they cannot claim protection of European Community law.

1983

  • Referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution(Article 40.3.3) is passed after a bitterly contested campaign. 53.67% of the electorate voted, with 841,233 votes in favour and 416,136 against. Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution is inserted to read: “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.”
  • Sheila Hodgers, who was pregnant and suffering from breast cancer, dies in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda two days after delivering her pregnancy two months premature. Her baby dies almost immediately after birth. Sheila Hodgers’ cancer treatment had been stopped by the hospital, which claimed it would harm the pregnancy. She had also been denied an x-ray and pain relief.

1861

  • The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is passed which criminalises women who “procure a miscarriage”. The Act also makes it a crime to assist a woman to “procure a miscarriage”. The punishment in both cases is life imprisonment. The Act also criminalises anyone who knowingly supplies the means to “procure a miscarriage”. These criminal laws remain on the Irish Statute books for more than 150 years and are interpreted to criminalise abortion in all circumstances. Subsequent amendments to the Constitution and court cases interpret further the dimensions of abortion, however, the 1861 Act remains the basis of criminal law on abortion in Ireland until the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 comes into force.

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