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Conscience Magazine

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly Addresses the Eighth Amendment

April 19, 2017

Composed of 99 Citizens selected at random from throughout the country, the Irish Citizens’ Assembly convened over a number of successive weekends in January and February to address the issue of abortion access as it is codified in the Eighth Amendment of Ireland’s Constitution. Broken into 14 roundtables with facilitators for each group, the assembly was chaired by Judge Mary Laffoy with the purpose of presenting data and perspectives on a number of topics with the hope of measuring public opinion and using the results of committee discussion and opinion to decide upon the necessity of a referendum on the given subjects.

A session of the Irish Citizen's Assembly was held to discuss the shape and necessity of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. © Photo Appears Courtesy of RTE News
A session of the Irish Citizen’s Assembly was held to discuss the shape and necessity of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. © Photo Appears Courtesy of RTE News

In the case of abortion and the Eighth Amendment, three initial sessions on the topic were set to be held over consecutive weekends. After just the second session, however, Judge Laffoy indicated that the assembly’s level of interest for the issue—coupled with the numerous facets requiring examination for the creation of informed opinions— necessitated an extra weekend, which she granted.

The first section of the Citizens’ Assembly focused on fetal abnormalities as well as the specific legal parameters and guidelines pertaining to them. The selected citizens reviewed 300 written opinions and testimonies on the subject of abortion selected at random from a larger sample of 13,500. Reports state that many participants were “taken aback” at the large number of submissions received from religious institutions; two tables were vocal in their critique of antiabortion submissions, and one table held the “unanimous view” that the majority of antiabortion submissions “offered no solutions.”

Providing diverging ethical perspectives on the issue, the second session addressed the moral status of the fetus. The 14 tables were posed with three questions that each member of the assembly went on to answer:

  1. Should the right to life of the unborn child continue to be protected as it currently is under amendment 8?

— Ten of 14 facilitators reported their tables indicating “No.”

  1. Do the “X” case and the 2013 Act make legal abortion available under too many circumstances?

— Seven tables responded “No.” The remaining seven tables failed to provide a “Yes” or “No” answer.

  1. Should abortion be legally available under more circumstances than are currently permissible?

— Nine of the tables responded “Yes.” None of the remaining tables reported back with a “No.”

Additional responses from participants included calls for, or interest in reviewing, access to contraception and sex education, as well as declarations that matters of reproductive health “should be between a woman and her medical practitioner.” As of publication, the Eighth Amendment portion of the Assembly is still ongoing, with roundtables yet to hear from pro- and anti-advocacy groups.