Timeline: Key events surrounding Ireland’s abortion laws
A referendum on Friday will decide whether to overhaul Ireland’s abortion laws. Here is a timeline of the key events.
A referendum on Friday will decide whether to overhaul Ireland’s strict abortion laws. Here is a timeline of the key events.
1861: Abortion is banned in Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act.
1967: A private member’s bill brought by David Steel MP led to the UK’s Abortion Act 1967, which is still the law governing abortions in England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland.
Many other countries also liberalised rules governing the procedure.
1983: A referendum in Ireland led to the Eighth Amendment to the constitution recognising the right to life of the unborn child.
It “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”.
1986: The High Court ruled that the availability to women in Ireland of information on abortion outside Ireland breached the constitution as it undermined the child’s right to life.
1992: A teenage rape victim in Ireland who was suffering from suicidal thoughts was prevented by the courts from terminating her pregnancy in England.
It was dubbed the X Case and was the subject of a ruling from Ireland’s highest court, the Supreme Court, which overturned the decision.
Judges said a realistic threat of suicide constituted grounds for an abortion.
Two referendums were held and as a result the constitution was amended to ensure Irish women had the freedom to travel to other countries to seek terminations.
Medical practitioners still faced uncertainty over when the procedure could be carried out in Ireland.
2002: Another referendum was held to decide if the threat of suicide as a ground for legal abortion should be removed. It was rejected.
2010: The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had not provided clarity on the availability of abortion in cases where a mother’s life was at risk.
2012: Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar died in a hospital in Galway after being denied an abortion during a miscarriage.
Her husband Praveen Halappanavar claimed she requested a termination but was refused because the baby’s heart was still beating.
A midwife manager at Galway University Hospital has confirmed that she told Mrs Halappanavar a termination could not be carried out because Ireland was a “Catholic country”.
2013: Abortion law was amended to allow terminations under certain strictly-defined circumstances – the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.
For the first time, processes were set out to establish the circumstances in which there was a real and substantial risk to the life, not the health, of a woman, and where the only treatment that would avert that risk was an abortion.
It also introduced a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment for having or assisting in an unlawful abortion.
The law meant the state had finally legislated on the 1992 Supreme Court X Case.
2015: The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern at Ireland’s “highly restrictive” legislation on abortion and called for another referendum.
2016: The UN found that Amanda Mellet, who had been carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality, had been subjected to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment due to Ireland’s abortion prohibition.
She had to travel abroad for the procedure and was forced to leave the remains of her baby behind before they were eventually delivered by courier.
The UN called for the strict prohibition in Ireland to be reversed.
The Irish Government outlined terms of reference for a Citizens’ Assembly to begin examining the Eighth Amendment of the constitution and advise the Government.
2017: The Assembly recommended that unrestricted access to abortion during early pregnancy be introduced.
The Government promised to hold a referendum in 2018 on whether to change the law.
2018: Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy set the poll date as May 25.
Voters were to be asked if they wanted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which would give the Government freedom to legislate to regulate termination of pregnancy.
The Government has published proposals for a new law if the referendum is passed giving relatively unrestricted access to abortion during the first 12 weeks, subject to medical advice and a period of reflection.
If, after 12 weeks, a woman’s life is threatened or there could be serious harm to her health, two doctors will consider whether to allow the procedure.
Terminations will not be carried out after the foetus becomes viable, following 24 weeks of pregnancy.