Submission to the Citizens Assembly on Abortion Law Reform in Ireland

Along with almost 8,000 other individuals and organisations, I made a written submission to the Citizens Assembly considering Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, which recognises a right to life of “the unborn” and the equal right to life of pregnant women. The Citizens Assembly was established to bring together 99 randomly selected ‘citizens’ under the chairmanship of Ms Justice Laffoy, to consider numerous potential changes to the Irish Constitution, the first of which is ‘the 8th Amendment’. The terms of reference of the Assembly are here.

At the time of its establishment, I expressed some concern that the deliberations in the Assembly should not turn into a microcosm of the broader moral/ethical debate on abortion, and instead try to focus on constitutional form and reform, inasmuch as the two can be separated in any meaningful way. The first session on the 8th Amendment–the videos of which can be found on the Citizens Assembly YouTube channel here–demonstrates the seriousness with which the members of the Assembly were taking to the task, and the wide range of opinions and issues they wished to hear more about (esp. the final session).

The Assembly now has the difficult task of sifting through and trying to take in the almost-8,000 submissions that have been made to it. These include the personal stories of many women who live in Ireland and who have accessed abortion, and the difficulties that they had in doing so because they either had to travel abroad or to import abortion pills illegally to Ireland (some have published theirs online already, such as this one). They also include submissions from major religious congregations (e.g. submission of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, statement from the General Synod of the Church of Ireland), pro-choice groups (e.g. the submission from the Repeal the 8th Coalition), and anti-abortion reform groups (e.g. the SPUC submission).

All submissions will be published on the Citizens Assembly website in the coming weeks and months, and will constitute a remarkable collection of institutional, academic, and first person narratives on abortion in Ireland the like of which I do not think we have ever had before.

My individual submission focuses on constitutional law, the practicalities of accessing abortion as a result of it, and arguments for and against a number of different approaches to constitutional reform. I have uploaded it here; it is long but I have provided a Table of Contents that hopefully makes it reasonably navigable. I was also part of another group submission from the ten lawyers (Mairead Enright, Vicky Conway, Fiona de Londras, Mary Donnelly, Ruth Fletcher, Natalie McDonnell, Sheelagh McGuinness, Claire Murray, Sinead Ring, Sorcha ui Chonnachtaigh) who drafted the model Access to Abortion Bill and published it open access last year. Our submission is an abridged version of the accompanying article to that model law (available here), as well as the model law with its substantial accompanying notes (available here).

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