Ireland Citizens’ Assembly votes in favor of changing abortion laws

The Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland voted Saturday in favor of changing the country’s laws on abortion, bringing the country one step closer to a public referendum that would allow greater access to abortion.

A Citizens' Assembly in Ireland, led by Supreme Court Justice Mary Laffoy, voted in favor of changing the country's abortion laws on Saturday. Photo courtesy of The Supreme Court of Ireland
A Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland, led by Supreme Court Justice Mary Laffoy, voted in favor of changing the country’s abortion laws on Saturday. Photo courtesy of The Supreme Court of Ireland

Of the 91 eligible voters in the group of randomly selected citizens, led by Supreme Court Justice Mary Laffoy, 87 percent voted Article 40.3.3 regarding abortion rights “should not be retained in full.”

Article 40.3.3, which is the Eighth Amendment to the Ireland Constitution, grants equal rights to life to both mother and child.

“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 article states.

The assembly later voted 50 to 39 in favor of amending the article rather than having it completely repealed.

Following their choice to reform the article, the assembly will be asked to decide whether it should be replaced by a “constitutional provision that explicitly authorizes the Oireachtas (the Irish legislature) to legislate to address both termination of pregnancy and any rights of the unborn” or “replaced or amended with a new constitutional provision that directly addresses both termination of pregnancy and any rights of the unborn.”

Another series of votes will be held to gather the assembly’s thoughts on specific changes to the law including provisions for access to abortion if the child is diagnosed with a fatal fetal abnormality or in cases of rape or incest.

Irish law has allowed for early delivery or surgical termination of a pregnancy in cases when the mother’s life is at risk under the Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Act since 2014.

The ballots are expected to run until 5 p.m. Saturday or Sunday morning if necessary.

When the assembly first voted in favor of changing the law, Laffoy said the result was a mandate for changing the status quo and would necessitate a constitutional referendum

She also praised the group for assisting in the democratic process.

“This exercise in deliberative democracy allowed us to withdraw from the polarising perspectives and begin first and foremost with the facts,” she said. “Given the level of commitment you have shown to date I have no doubt that you will show equal commitment to the task ahead of us this weekend,” Laffoy said.

By Daniel Uria