The Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland introduced a constitutional ban on abortion. It was introduced to prevent abortion being legalised at any time in the future. Opponents of abortion sought the amendment partly because of fears that the Irish Supreme Court might infer an implicit right to an abortion in the provisions of the constitution. The court had already ruled, in the 1974 case of McGee v. The Attorney General, that reference in Article 41 to the "imprescriptable rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law" of the family conferred upon spouses a broad right to privacy in marital affairs. It was feared that this right might be extended to include the right to an abortion. There was further concern that the Supreme Court might take its lead from developments in judicial review in other nations, such as the controversial ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade.

It was effected by the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1983, which was approved by referendum on 7 September 1983 and signed into law on the 7 October of the same year. The amendment was passed by 841,233 (64%) votes in favour to 416,136 (33%) against. While the change shown above is that made to the English language text of the constitution, constitutionally it is the Irish text that has precedence.

It inserted into the Constitution Article 40.3.3°:

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.

Admhaíonn an Stát ceart na mbeo gan breith chun a mbeatha agus, ag féachaint go cuí do chomhcheart na máthar chun a beatha, ráthaíonn sé gan cur isteach lena dhlíthe ar an gceart sin agus ráthaíonn fós an ceart sin a chosaint is a shuíomh lena dhlíthe sa mhéid gur féidir é.

The referendum was supposed to be the end of the abortion controversy in Ireland. The popular initiative for the referendum had come from the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign and the wording that originated with Fianna Fail was carried by an overwhelming majority. In the event the lull in the abortion battle lasted less than ten years.