Repealing the 8th Amendment won’t be enough, according to Irish Children’s Minister and two senior legal figures

Ireland’s Children’s Minister, Katherine Zappone, believes that only offering abortions in cases of incest, rape and fatal fetal abnormality would “do nothing at all for most women in Ireland”. She argued that “Winning a referendum requires… a good knowledge base, factual counter-points to misinformation, and a large and organised canvassing effort across the entire country with clear and broad political support… Right now, only a limited referendum to allow for abortion in cases of risk to life, rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormality seems able to muster those ingredients for success.” While she thought this would be an improvement on the current situation of almost no abortions at all, it would not go far enough for most women in Ireland who wish to access abortion.Several senior legal figures hold a similar point of view. Judge Richard Humphreys for example, in a judicial review of a deportation order for a Nigerian man who has a child with his Irish-born partner. The child was born a month after the parents applied for the judicial review of the order. The judge dismissed the state’s arguments that the couple, being unmarried, had no constitutional family rights and their unborn child’s only right was to life. He said the man should not be deported until a decision was made on his application for residency, based on his parentage of an unborn child. These rights, he said, are “actually effective” rather than merely prospective and they “must be taken seriously” by the state.His ruling is said to have opened up the possibility of more unintended consequences of the 1983 eighth amendment to the Irish Constitution on abortion, not all of them necessarily negative.Conor O’Mahony, a senior lecturer in constitutional law at University College Cork, also warned that repealing the 8th amendment would not excise the unborn’s right to life from the constitution, because pre-1983 court judgments also applied. These precedents make it imperative that legislation is proposed as part of a repeal referendum to clarify what would be permissible in its aftermath.Mary Laffoy of the Irish Supreme Court has been appointed to chair the Constitutional Assembly that will propose a referendum. The Assembly will have to examine the question of when a fetus becomes a person in the eyes of the law in order to override all previous legal precedents, including some that are not even about abortion.The legal analyses of Humphreys and O’Mahony, reported by Justine McCarthy in the Sunday Times, are complex but well worth getting to grips with.SOURCES: Irish Independent, by Kevin Doyle, 5 August 2016 + PHOTO: Tom Burke ;Sunday Times, by Justine McCarthy, 7 August 2016