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The recent recommendation from the Citizens’ Assembly set up by the Irish Houses of Parliament has raised hopes that abortion law in the Republic of Ireland may soon change. Women in Ireland who wish to have a termination are currently unable to do so at home, unless there is a serious risk to their own life. Many women are therefore forced to travel overseas to have a private abortion in the UK
The Citizens’ Assembly is a gathering of 99 randomly selected members of the public who have been tasked by the government to hear evidence and vote on a specific issue. Before voting on the issue, the assembly heard evidence from a wide range of doctors and other voices. As fully informed members of the public, the assembly was then able to provide valuable advice to the government.
The final vote by the assembly suggested that public views of abortion in Ireland have changed, with 64% suggesting that there should be no restrictions on early abortions. The assembly recommended that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which confers an equal right to life on the pregnant woman and the foetus, should be changed or replaced. A majority of the assembly were in favour of allowing terminations for a much wider range of reasons than is currently possible in the Republic of Ireland.
The full recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly will be presented to the Irish government in June. The elected members of parliament will then discuss whether to follow the assembly’s recommendations and consider a change in the law. However, if the law on abortion in Ireland is to change, it would require a full public referendum as it would involve a change to the constitution. Although the public attitudes reflected by the Citizens’ Assembly have changed, it may take some time for the laws to follow.