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13th December 2017, 19:47:31 UTC

Amnesty International has welcomed the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s decisive vote in favour of the full repeal of the Eighth Amendment and expanded access to abortion for women and girls in Ireland. The overwhelming majority of Committee members – 14 votes to 6 with 1 abstention – agree that the forthcoming referendum should allow people in Ireland an opportunity to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution entirely. The Eighth Amendment is the core impediment to the introduction of human rights compliant abortion legislation in Ireland. Today’s vote by the Committee is an important step towards its full repeal. Any partial repeal or retention of the Eighth Amendment could cast serious doubt over future legislation’s compliance with Ireland’s international legal obligations.

In a resounding vote for meaningful access to abortion in Ireland, Committee members also voted by 12 votes to 5, with 4 abstentions, to support the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendation of access to abortion on request in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.  Polling commissioned by Amnesty International and conducted by RED C in October 2017 confirmed that this proposal enjoys broad public support, with 60% supporting women’s access to abortion on request either outright or within specific gestational limits. Access to abortion on request is key to realising women’s sexual and reproductive rights. International human rights standards, public health evidence and the experience of other countries shows that providing access to abortion on request during early pregnancy, and in certain circumstances in later pregnancy, is the best way to ensure meaningful access as required under international human rights law.

Separately, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated this afternoon that he intends to schedule a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in May 2018.

“Today’s vote is an important step forward for the human rights of women and girls in Ireland. It is also a victory of expert evidence and reason over disinformation and ideology.  It should finally put to bed the portrayal of abortion reform as too complicated or controversial. The Committee’s acceptance of abortion as a health and human rights issue is not only of immense domestic significance. It is an important outcome in the global fight for women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights.

“The Committee heard from a wide range of international medical and legal experts, the vast majority of whom underlined the importance of expanding access to abortion. Having considered this evidence, the Committee not only supported the broadly human rights compliant recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, but went a step further in strengthening them. These recommendations would bring Ireland’s abortion laws broadly into line with the approach adopted by most other countries.

“Today’s vote once again underlines the broad political consensus that exists to expand access to abortion in Ireland. It shows that there is real political will to put women’s and girls’ health and human rights firmly at the centre of abortion law reform.  Today’s vote, along with the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and repeated opinion polls, has highlighted the wide-ranging support that exists to reform Ireland’s abortion laws. We welcome the Taoiseach’s statement that he intends to schedule a referendum next May, allowing people in Ireland to finally have a say on this important issue,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

International human rights law also requires the full decriminalisation of abortion, for both women who need abortions and the medical professionals who care for them. The Joint Oireachtas Committee voted resoundingly in favour of decriminalisation, with 18 votes in favour and 3 against.

“The decisive vote in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion is an important step towards complying with Ireland’s obligations under international human rights law. Women or girls who need abortions are not criminals and the law should not treat them as such. Medical professionals who provide abortions should be regulated like any other health service, and not be subject to specific criminal offences,” said Colm O’Gorman.

Ensuring the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls are fully respected, protected and fulfilled requires an integrated approach, including affordable access to contraception, quality sexuality education, the provision of obstetric care and prenatal scanning. These services must be available to all women and girls. The Committee’s votes on these issues underlines the importance of a mutually reinforcing, integrated package of information, education and services to fulfil the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls.

“I would like to recognise the work of the Committee members and staff in reaching this conclusion. I would also like to commend the expert witnesses who gave their time to the Committee as they examined the issue. Their evidence and international best practice should inform the government’s legal and policy approach to expanding access to abortion in Ireland. The Committee’s work has provided an important set of recommendations which must inform the legislative proposals put forward. The Government must accept these recommendations and move forward with the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment in May 2018,” said Colm O’Gorman. 

Notes for editors:
In October 2017, Amnesty International commissioned RED C to conduct an opinion poll on attitudes to abortion in Ireland. The poll found that a majority of people in Ireland (60%) believe that women should have access to abortion on request, either outright or within specific gestational limits. People’s support is broadly consistent across all age groups, regions and demographics. The full polling deck is available at www.amnesty.ie/itstimepoll

In 2015, Amnesty International published a research report, She is Not a Criminal, on the impact of Ireland’s abortion law on women and girls. It documented the harrowing experiences that women and girls in Ireland have endured because of the restrictive laws on abortion and concluded that Irish law restricting access to abortion causes multiple violations of women’s and girls’ human rights. A copy of the report is available here. https://www.amnesty.ie/1859/

Amnesty International’s submission to the Assembly summarises the harm and human rights violations caused by Ireland’s criminalisation and prohibition of abortion. A copy of the submission is available here. https://www.amnesty.ie/citizensassembly/