Unions Call for Repeal of the 8th


Source: SIPTU Liberty Magazine, Feb 2017, by Therese Caherty (posted here with permission of the author)


“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.”

Article 40.3.3 (8th Amendment), Bunreacht na hEireann (Irish Constitution)

We’re often asked why unions should be involved in the movement to repeal the 8th amendment. This is our answer.

As workers, we organise in trade unions primarily to protect pay and conditions. But we also recognise that issues outside the workplace affect our working lives. So unions have a history of fighting for wider social justice: the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, disability, age or religion. The Dunnes Stores workers who, in 1984 began a protest against apartheid in South Africa which lasted almost three years, acted in this spirit of solidarity.

In 1983, however, the 8th Amendment, which makes a woman’s life equal to that of the foetus she carries, was voted in by referendum. Opponents of the amendment said it would compromise health care for pregnant women, that women could die. And that has turned out to be true. In effect pregnant women and girls in Ireland are denied treatments to protect them in a way that no other group in our society is.

In the 1980s, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions unequivocally opposed the Amendment, saying “the rigidity and inflexibility of constitutional directives on social and moral issues is inappropriate in a democracy”. That position is unchanged. The Dublin Council of Trade Unions was equally opposed.

Today, David Joyce, ICTU’s equality officer, says: “The fact that it was bad policy to begin with has only become more evident with time and now it has to change. Women comprise more than half of the trade union membership in Ireland and it is unacceptable that they live in a country where the law puts their health and lives at risk, criminalises them and forces them to travel abroad to avail of safe and legal abortion services. It is time to start undoing the damage done in 1983.

Under current legislation, framed by the 8th Amendment, abortion is illegal in Ireland unless a doctor believes a woman’s life, not her health, is in danger. This irrational distinction was introduced via the Supreme Court’s ruling on the X Case in 1992. Ms X, 14 years old, pregnant by a family friend and suicidal at not being able to terminate the pregnancy, was considered eligible for an abortion here on the basis that her life was under threat. She miscarried before she had to leave the State to assert that right.
Abortion is a reality in Irish life : between 1980 and 2014, at least 163,514 women registered for terminations abroad. It is likely that many were workers and union members. As trade unionists, we think the movement should support female workers by fighting to ensure women can get any medical treatment they need; and end the stress and expense of going abroad to terminate a crisis pregnancy, caused by the 8th Amendment’s ban on abortion, by campaigning to repeal it.

With a membership of 800,000, over half of which are women, the trade union movement is the State’s largest civil society grouping. Most women members are in their childbearing years. Continuing in the tradition set out by the ICTU and the DCTU, the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th believes that if women are not allowed to make choices around their own bodies, they are denied equality. So we believe Article 40.3.3 should be removed in its entirety. Because this is the only way to safeguard the health, lives and rights of women and girls in Ireland; and because the restrictions the amendment puts on health workers compromises their ability to ensure women do not suffer or die.

Finally, our campaign works to bring the trade union viewpoint to public debate on Ireland’s abortion ban. And we support individual activists within unions which aren’t yet on board in whatever way we can. Our model motion has been adapted and passed at branch and conference levels.

How can you support our campaign?

  • You can send us a message of solidarity on International Women’s Day when we March4Repeal with other Coalition members.
  • Or you could stage a photo opp / media event to publicise your support.
  • Your union could affiliate to our campaign – as ASLEF, Unison and the TUC have done.
  • You could pass a motion at your union conference affirming your support for our cause.
  • Contact us at info@tradeunions4repeal.ie to be placed on our mailing list.
  • You could Like us on Facebook (TURepealthe8th)


We are supported by the Communications Workers Union (CWU), Impact, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Mandate, Unite, Unision, , the Technical Electrical Engineering Union (TEEU), the youth committees of ICTU, Unite and the CWU, the Dublin, Bray & District and Waterford trades councils, in Britain we are supported by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Unison and train drivers’ union ASLEF. We are affiliated to the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment – which has over 80 affiliates including Amnesty International, the National Women’s Council and the Irish Council of Civil Liberties.