Mícheál Martin has endorsed the removal of the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution which bans abortion.

The leader of Fianna Fáil Mícheál Martin on Thursday announced his support of the repeal of the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution which bans abortion in Ireland. Later this year, a referendum is expected to take place in Ireland which will address Irish laws on abortion and the possible repeal or replacement of this eighth amendment.

Fianna Fáil is one of the two largest political parties in Ireland, which is currently in a minority government with the second large party Fine Gael, lead by Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar. The Taoiseach’s stance on abortion is, as yet, unknown but he is expected to reveal his opinion on the repeal movement by the end of January.

Read more: Abortion debate to take center stage in Ireland in 2018

Leo Vardkar's stance on the abortion referendum is unknown.

Leo Vardkar's stance on the abortion referendum is unknown.

Speaking in Dáil Éireann (the Irish House of Representatives), Martin announced his endorsement of the repeal of the eighth, a u-turn on his previous stance on abortion which saw him supporting the continuation of the current ban.

“If we are sincere then we must act,” Martin said.

“Because it has caused real harm to the quality of care available to pregnant women at critical moments; because it has not and cannot change the reality that abortion is a present and permanent part of Irish life, because it seeks to force women to carry a pregnancy to term when they have been the victim of a rape or incest or when they have received the diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality, because it requires that pregnant women and doctors are faced with criminal sanctions.

“And because it prevents us from responding in a humane way in order to help women in the most traumatic situations.

“Because of these reasons and following a long period of reflection and assessment of evidence before the Oireachtas Committee, I believe that we should remove the Eighth amendment from Bunreacht na hÉireann and I will vote accordingly.”

Read more: Irish abroad look set to fly #HomeToVote on abortion referendum

Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin

Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin

Martin continued to state that he believes the amendment should not be repealed without the means of replacing it in some way, allowing the government the opportunity to create new legislation around abortion.

“Before deciding on this I would like to see the legal advice which the government says is being prepared,” he said.

“However, I feel it is likely that we may need to agree a replacement which gives certainty to the Oireachtas’ right to legislate.  This need not be a complex provision, but it may be the only way to prevent significant unintended consequences in  future court cases which are inevitable.”

Read more: Finding a middle ground on abortion rights in Ireland

What is the current law on abortion in Ireland? 

Abortion is illegal in Ireland and only allowed if it is shown that the life of the mother is at risk, including at the risk of suicide. The eighth amendment gives Ireland some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, voted in at a time when even contraception was illegal. A woman convicted of having an illegal termination faces 14 years imprisonment.

A 1983 referendum added the eighth amendment to the constitution setting the rights of the unborn child as having equal weight as that of the mother and it was only the high profile case Savita Halappanavar that led to the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allowed for a mother’s right to an abortion when her own life was at risk.

Halappanavar died of complications in 2012 after she was denied an abortion, despite knowing her unborn baby would not survive outside of the womb.

How many women in Ireland travel for an abortion? 

The debate is already ramping up in Ireland ahead of the abortion referendum. Image: RollingNews.ie.

The debate is already ramping up in Ireland ahead of the abortion referendum. Image: RollingNews.ie.

Just because abortion is illegal in Ireland is not to say that Irish citizens are not availing of them by other means, added an extra ferocity for the calls to repeal the eighth and provide a safe and legal alternative for Irish women and families within their own countries borders.

In fact, a Red C poll taken in 2016 showed that 68% of Irish people agreed that that Ireland’s abortion ban does not stop most women who want an abortion from having one while 65% agreed that the law as it currently stands makes women have unsafe abortions.

The UN Human Rights Committee have already decreed twice that the law as it stands goes against human rights and have urged the Irish government to extend the extent to which women in the country are provided with access to safe and legal abortions.  

In 2017, a public forum Citizens Assembly was established by the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) to advise the government on a selection of ethical and moral problems within the constitution being faced by the Irish people. Consisting of 99 members in total and including men and women of different ages, from different parts of the country, and from different backgrounds, the Assembly met in last year to hear testimonies from a range of women about their experience in traveling abroad for an abortion or of their decision not to have an abortion before making their decision.

The exact wording of the impending referendum is yet to be decided or to be announced.

How would you vote in a referendum on abortion in Ireland? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, below. 

H/T: TheJournal.ie