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Information briefing from LIARC on the Referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment



Referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment from the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann)

Information briefing from LIARC

On the 25 May 2018, Irish citizens who normally reside within the state (or who have been out of the state for less than 18 months and intend to return) will be asked to vote in a referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment (Article 40.3.3) from the Irish Constitution.

The Government published a policy paper on 8 March which outlines how it intends to legislate, in the case of a Yes vote.  This policy paper describes 21 principles upon which future legislation would be based, which include:

The legislation would also remove the criminalisation of abortion for women seeking abortions. Doctors who perform abortions outside of the law would still be liable to prosecution.

What is the Eighth Amendment?

The Eighth Amendment equates the life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus:

“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 referendum to insert the Eighth Amendment was passed on 7 September 1983 with the support of 67 percent of those who voted.  The 53.67 percent turnout means that the Eighth Amendment was supported by 36 percent of all registered Irish voters in 1983.

In 1992, the 13th and 14th Amendments were also added to the Irish Constitution. These guarantee that people are free to travel out of Ireland to access abortion services in other countries (13th Amendment) and to access information about abortion services in other countries (14th Amendment).

Under the National Consent Policy of the Health Service Executive in Ireland, the Eighth Amendment limits the rights of pregnant women in Ireland to accept or refuse medical treatment:

 “because of the Constitutional provisions on the right to life of the unborn [Article 40.3.3] there is significant legal uncertainty regarding a pregnant woman’s right to [consent]”.

What process led to the 2018 Referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment?

Prior to the calling of a referendum, a Citizens’ Assembly was established in 2016 by the Irish Government.

A Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution was then established on 4 April 2017 to review the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly.

Who can vote in the Referendum?

Irish citizens over 18 years of age and resident in Ireland can vote 

Irish citizens overseas may retain full voting rights for a period of 18 months, should they intend to return to Ireland within that timeframe (Section 11 (3) of the Electoral Act 1992) 

You can read more about voting rights for Irish abroad here.

More information can be found here

The Irish Times Referendum Tracker:


Ireland abortion statistics:

Irish Family Planning Association, Abortion; a legal timeline (2017):

World Health Organisation, Preventing unsafe abortion (January 2018):

Fiona de Londras and Mairead Enright, Repealing the Eighth; reforming Irish Abortion Law (February 2018): 
ISBN: 978–1447347514