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INTRODUCTION During the last 20 years over 100,000 women1 who attended clinics in Britain for abortion gave an Irish address. The actual figure for Irish women who have had abortions is likely to be far higher, but due to the secrecy that society imposes on women who have undergone an abortion, the actual issue is rarely discussed outside the moral or political arena. The issue of abortion has many facets – for some it is an issue of women’s civil rights, health and reproductive choice, for others it is a moral or political issue. This factsheet does not discuss the moral issues, but is a factual discussion of the legal and statistical reality of the lack of access to abortion in Ireland for women. It does not provide abortion clinic contact details. FACTS ABOUT W OMEN & ABORTION •

More than 100,000 Irish women have travelled to Britain to obtain an abortion since 1983

It is estimated that circa 20 women travel every day to have an abortion or access abortion services in Britain2

In 1983 circa 3,600 women gave Irish addresses who sought abortion in Britain but by 2001 this figure had risen to 6,673.3

In 1983 73% passed the referendum to the constitution which read “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its law defend and vindicate that right”. This amendment has proved to be a very controversial over the last 20 years because pro-choice groups oppose it while pro-life groups defend it.

The interpretation of article 40.3.3 of the Constitution by the Supreme Court (during the “X case”) allowed for abortion if suicide was threatened as it posed a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the mother. No legislation has been introduced to support this interpretation. Two amendments have been proposed since in 1992 and 2002 but have been defeated.

Abortion has been illegal under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland, except to save a mother’s life – but this can sometimes be a grey area and medical attitudes can vary as to what constitutes a risk to a mother’s life.

Every year at least 1,600 Northern Irish women travel to England for an abortion.4


Articles 58/59 of Offences Against the Person Act prohibit abortion.


Criminal Law Amendment Act outlaws contraception in Ireland.


Abortion Act is adopted in Britain, but not extended to Northern Ireland


Contraception is partially legalised through the Health (Family Planning) Act.


Breen, S., 2003. Call for liberalisation of abortion law. Irish Times.  IFPA, 2000. The Irish journey: women’s stories of abortion, Dublin, IFPA.  3  Holland, K., 2003. Twenty years of antenatal politics. Irish Times 4  Breen, S., 2003. Ruling interpreted differently by various groups, Irish Times. 2


Constitutional amendment (8th Amendment, Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of the Irish Republic) adopted giving equal right to life of pregnant woman & unborn child (see bullet-point in section above for exact wording).

1988 1991

Ban on dissemination of abortion information from the Supreme Court, but is appealed. European Court of Justice rules in favour of allowing women the right to travel. European Convention allows dissemination of abortion information.


“X case” Supreme Court ruling allows for abortion in the face of a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the mother – in this case a 14 year old girl was stopped from travelling to UK, which led to the Supreme Court ruling that abortion should be permitted where the woman’s life is in danger, including the threat of suicide. No legislation has been introduced to support this ruling. In November 1992, the freedom to travel and the right to information were added to Article 40.3.3, but in the same vote rejected the third amendment of the same article (proposing the ban terminations if the health and not the life of the mother was in jeopardy)


Legislation to provide for abortion information, and the right to travel introduced.


Referendum, which sought to roll back the Supreme Court decision of 1992, was defeated.

NW CI ACTIONS ON W OMEN AND ABORTION In the run-up to the 2002 referendum, we consulted with our affiliate groups. Following detailed discussion of the issues (health implications, loss of the right to travel if under state care, threat of suicide to no longer be grounds for termination etc) a consensus decision was reached by NWCI affiliates in attendance, that NWCI should encourage women to vote no (reject the referendum). A detailed information leaflet was produced and disseminated. The referendum was rejected. You can view our press releases on the issue at : ORGANISATIONS INVOLVED W ITH W OMEN AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

NW CI Affiliates – please view our full affiliate listing on Irish Family Planning Association - crisis pregnancy services…. - this particular link above is a good overview with statistics, law and history with documents for download.

Cherish National Association for Single Parent Families - offers many services including pregnancy counselling and post-termination counselling (nondirective & non-judgemental).

OTHER INFORMATION SOURCES ON THE INTERNET* i Irish Council for Civil Liberties United Nations Economic and Social Development Women’s Rights page - good overview with legal and historical view of Ireland and abortion l issue. Press releases & statements on abortion issue and others. BIBLIOGRAPHY Breen, S., 2003. Call for liberalisation of abortion law. Irish Times. Breen, S., 2003. Ruling interpreted differently by various groups, Irish Times. Connolly, L., 2002. Irish women’s movement: from revolution to devolution, New York, Palgrave. Holland, K., 2003. Twenty years of antenatal politics. Irish Times. ICCL, 2001. The need for abortion law reform in Ireland: the case against the twenty-fifth amendment of the constitution bill, 2001, Dublin, ICCL. IFPA, 2000. The Irish journey: women’s stories of abortion, Dublin, IFPA. Kinston, J., Whelan, A., Bacik, I., 1997. Abortion and the law. Dublin, Round Hall Sweet & Maxwell. Mahon, E., Conlon, C., Dillon, L., 1998. Women and crisis pregnancy. Dublin, Stationery Office.


 Please note that these organisations are not a source of abortion clinic information, but are purely for the academic discussion of abortion.