Constitution is no place for the regulation of women’s healthcare

Letter to The Editor – The Irish Independent – 18th April 2017

In most countries, access to abortion is covered by legislation and medical regulations, not in constitutions. There is a reason for this: it brings certainty to a complex issue, and ensures law and medical practice are aligned to deliver the best healthcare outcomes for women.

In Ireland, the 1983 Eighth Amendment to the Constitution has resulted in contradictions and conflict in sexual and reproductive healthcare.  The Amendment has had a devastating impact on the lives of many women and their families.  It means women die because they are denied the medical treatment they need; their health may be seriously compromised; they are forced to carry pregnancies to completion knowing the foetus cannot survive; and thousands each year leave Ireland to get pregnancy and abortion care abroad, often with no follow-up care when they return home.

For the past six months, we have seen a group of 99 citizens dissecting a range of information on medical, legal and social approaches to abortion.  Not surprisingly, differences of opinion emerged during proceedings at the Citizens’ Assembly.  However, a constant thread through all discussions was recognition of the very real harm caused to women by the Eighth Amendment.

Representing over 80 civil society groups, the Coalition to Repeal the 8thAmendment brought the broad perspective of our members to the Citizens’ Assembly in early March.  As the Assembly convenes next weekend to make its final recommendations on this issue, we wish to highlight again that the Constitution is no place for the regulation of women’s healthcare.

The UN and the Council of Europe have clearly stated that, until women in Ireland have adequate and equal access to abortion, the State is violating basic human rights.  While the Eighth Amendment remains in our Constitution, Ireland is breaching the international covenants and treaties to which it is a signatory.

Our member organisations look forward to a recommendation from the Citizens’ Assembly that the Eighth Amendment must be deleted entirely from the Constitution and that no replacement amendment should be proposed.

A woman’s pregnancy and reproductive health can require complex decisions.  These should be a matter for the woman, her family and her doctor alone.  No constitutional wording can allow for the complexities of such decisions.

Ailbhe Smyth

Convenor

Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment

9-13 Blackhall Place

Dublin 7