The issue of abortion in Ireland is complex, controversial and, as in many other countries, has divided society as to the right course to take. After gaining independence, the Irish state decided to keep in place the existing law banning abortion, the Offenses against the Person Act of 1861. However, the Constitution was amended in 1983 as a response to the large amount of Irish women traveling to the United Kingdom to obtain an abortion. This amendment stated the right to life of the unborn fetus. This amendment was disputed at both political and religious levels.
Amendments and Referenda
In 1992, however, a new interpretation of the law was put forward in the aftermath of what was known as the "X Case". This new interpretation stated that the right to an abortion existed in extreme cases - for example, if the mother's life was in danger.
A referendum on the issue was called in 1992 and two acts which allowed women the right to travel for an abortion and the right to information were passed. Another act which would have provided clarification on when abortions would be deemed legal was defeated. The Irish government at the time received criticism due to what was judged to be one-sided advertising and improper use of public funds. These amendments came into being in 1995.
As stated, public opinion on the issue is divided. Various polls and studies have been conducted in order to determine the opinion of the Irish public and in 1997, an Irish Times/MRBI poll found that while 77% felt abortion should be permitted in certain circumstances, 18% still felt abortion should never be allowed. Opinion was more lenient with regard to those under 45, with a 2004 poll showing that 51% supported abortion "on-demand", 39% feeling it should be permitted in certain circumstances and just 8% wanting a total ban on abortion. Another 2010 poll showed that 60% of 18-35 year olds believe abortion should be legalized.
Many other polls have been carried out, with the general trend showing that a significant percentage of the population believes in the right to abortion under exceptional circumstances. This number does tend to vary depending on the survey, however. In 2007, TNS/MRBI showed that 82% favored this approach if the woman's life is threatened and 73% when the pregnancy resulted from sexual abuse. Two studies in 2010 (Irish Family Planning Organisation/Marie Stopes/YouGov and Millward Browne Lansdowne) again backed up this theory. In the first, 87% agreed abortion was appropriate for mothers whose lives were in danger and in the second (commissioned by the Pro-Life Campaign) 70% were in favor of the same approach.
In theory, abortion is legal in Ireland if the mother's life is threatened because of the pregnancy. However, the medical licensing body in Ireland has declared performing abortions to be malpractice, thus ensuring a legal contradiction ensues. The provision exists to allow Dail Eireann to legislate on the matter of abortion, but thus far this has not been done. The law is ambiguous and full of contradictions, however, the only thing that seems clear cut with regard to the issue is the legal right to life of the unborn fetus.