A referendum held a decade before I was born has shaped the Ireland I was born into, grew up in, and later emigrated from.


The Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution, recognising the equal right to life for the mother and the unborn child, was introduced in 1983. It was a time when contraception was new to the Catholic Ireland and the liberalisation that accompanied the popularity of ‘johnnies’ and ‘anti-babby pills’ quite literally put the fear of God into the Pro-Life brigade. That was when a small group of people, with friends in the right places, managed to table a referendum that has ever since defined and limited Irish society, and Irish women in particular.

As written in the constitution, the Eighth Amendment is a restriction which pits the rights of a woman against the right to life of the unborn:

The State 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.

It makes procuring an abortion in Ireland a criminal offence. A woman is restricted from obtaining an abortion in Ireland when she is pregnant due to rape. A woman is also restrained from acquiring an abortion if she is carrying a child with a fatal foetal abnormality, who will not survive outside of the womb. A woman can even be denied life-saving treatment for herself, chemotherapy for instance, if there is a risk that it would harm the unborn child.