FLAC supports the repeal of the Eighth Amendment

18 May 2018

FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent non-governmental, organisation which exists to promote access to justice. FLAC seeks to advance national and international standards that promote human rights and recognises that human rights are fundamental to everyone and permeate all areas of law.

In 1983 FLAC opposed the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, primarily on the grounds that it was confusing and would lead to legal and medical issues that would be difficult to balance and resolve. The Amendment has proved complex and inflexible and has led to a series of cases and further amendments.

Ireland’s abortion laws have been subject to criticism from a number of domestic and international human rights bodies including the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN Committee of on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the UN Committee against Torture. In Mellett V Ireland, a case concerning fatal foetal abnormality, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Ireland had subjected Ms Mellet to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and discrimination, in violation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. During Ireland’s May 2016 examination under the Universal Periodic review mechanism, 15 recommendations were made concerning Ireland’s need to strengthen women’s’ reproductive rights.

UN treaty bodies and experts have also raised concerns about the practical difficulties that face migrant women, including women seeking asylum, who need to travel to access abortion. The difficulties created by Ireland’s abortion laws for asylum seeking women were raised by FLAC in its 2009 report, One Size Doesn’t Fit All, which addressed the direct provision system in a human rights context. FLAC recommended that women in direct provisions should not be restricted in their reproductive rights, in particular with respect to family planning.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has repeatedly raised its concerns that the current legal framework on abortion disproportionately impacts on certain groups of women. It has also identified human rights and equality issues that need to be addressed in relation to access to abortion for reasons of health, the criminalisation of abortion, fatal foetal abnormality and the accessible age for appropriate health care for young women and girls.

FLAC is of the view that Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution puts in place barriers to women’s rights to the highest attainable standard of health and disproportionately impacts on particular groups of women and girls in the State, contributing to their unequal treatment depending on their socio-economic, health, immigration, disability or other status. It restricts the State’s ability to reform the legal and policy framework governing women’s reproductive health, in a way that meets international human rights standards.

Repealing the Eighth Amendment is necessary to achieve a framework for access to abortion which complies with human rights standards and therefore FLAC supports the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.  FLAC’s view, as expressed at the time of the insertion of the Amendment, is that the appropriate place for legislating on this issue lies with the Oireachtas.