Abortion Law Reform

9781447347514-405759-300x400In recent years I have written on the constitutional position as regards abortion in Ireland, where–pursuant to a Supreme Court decision in Attorney General v X as well as numerous referenda–an abortion was constitutionally permissible only where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as opposed to the health) of the pregnant woman. Many years later, and in a context in which no legislative architecture for exercising this right had been designed, the European Court of Human Rights held in A, B & C v Ireland that the lack of practicability of this right violated the Convention. My scholarship in this regard first argued for improvements to the Protection of Law During Pregnancy Act 2013, giving statutory effect to the right, and operating within the constitutional framework as it then existed. A research briefing on work done in this respect with Laura Graham, a Durham colleague, is available here, and you can read a co-authored article with Máiréad Enright here. I have also written extensively about the implications for law and practice of constitutionalising foetal rights and my article, “Constitutionalizing Fetal Rights: A Salutary Tale from Ireland” was published in the Michigan J. of Gender and the Law in 2016.


A significant strand of this work concerned the argument for repeal of the 8th Amendment and what might follow that in terms of a legislative framework. In this respect I was engaged, as part of a group of ten lawyers, by the Irish Labour Party as part of the Labour Women Commission to Repeal the 8th Amendment. Our work within this process resulted in the production of a draft law with an explanatory article attached. The draft law was published open access on feminists@law: it is available here, and the accompanying article is here. This work was influential across the political spectrum in Ireland. The Green Party, which was the first party to publish its reproductive justice policy in advance of the General Election 2016, proposed a scheme that reflects much of ours (I published an analysis here), and the Labour Party proposals (published in November 2015) also mirror many of our proposals (analysis published here).

In 2018 I published Repealing the 8th: Reforming Irish Abortion Law with Máiréad Enright. This open access book, published by Policy Press, outlined the arguments for repeal, and also projected forward to the development of constitutional rights in pregnancy as well as to legislative reform after the 8th. In it we proposed a new draft law, reflecting decisions in the Citizens Assembly and the Joint Oireachtas Committee. On 31 January we published a postscript taking into account what had happened since we completed the manuscript on 15 November 2017. We also founded the website http://www.aboutthe8th.com where we provided non-biased Q&A information for voters in the run up to the 2018 referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment, reaching hundreds of thousands of voters through the website, and its associated twitter and Facebook pages.

After Repeal

On 25 May 2018 the Irish people voted by a significant majority to repeal the 8th Amendment and empower the Oireachtas to make provision for the law termination of pregnancy. Following this, I worked with my colleagues in Lawyers for Choice, to influence the legislation. We did this by collaborating with civil society and politicians to write briefings (1, 2, 3) and engage one-on-one with politicians to influence amendments and the parliamentary discourse. The law–the Health (Regulation of the Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018–came into effect on 1 January 2019. As a result, legal abortion is now available to many people in Ireland, although we continue to work for improvements. My most recent work on Irish abortion law is forthcoming in Feminist Review in 2020 and demonstrates how, even after repeal, the Irish law fails to recognise pregnant people in Ireland as bearing rights that may entitle them to access abortion with security and dignity in at least some circumstances.

Beyond Ireland

Continuing my commitment to collaborating with and supporting activists through academic work on the form and shape of abortion law reform, I have recently engaged in particular in work on abortion law reform in Gibraltar. This included writing opinion editorials in the Gibraltar Chronicle, speaking at events organised by No More Shame Gibraltar, making a submission (with Enright) on the proposed new law (more information here), meeting with relevant government ministers to discuss improvements to the proposed law and how it might operate to maximise agency for pregnant people, and working with politicians and advocates in advance of parliamentary debates on the Bill (2019).