Timeline: Ireland’s Reproductive Choice History

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What’s Ireland’s abortion history in a nutshell?

1861: The Offences Against the Person Act means that all abortions in Ireland are illegal. This is a British law as Ireland is under occupation at this time.

1921: This law is maintained when Ireland gains independence, even though the UK at this stage reviewed and repealed their law on the matter.

1983: This is a turning point. Women and human rights activists felt things would change, contraception is being legalised, divorce law is on the horizon and, surely, abortion laws would catch up with the rest of the world? No. In 1983 we voted in a referendum to change the Irish Constitution to include the 8th Amendment/include Article 40.3.3 to stipulate the ‘right to life of the unborn’ to be equal to that of the ‘mother’.

1988: High court ruling finds that the supply of information is also illegal, but this ban is appealed.

1992: A critical event: the X case. A fourteen year old girl is raped and as a result is pregnant. She travels to the UK to obtain an abortion but the Irish High Court brought her back before the termination and ruled that she couldn’t leave the country again for 9 months. Referenda are passed to include the right to travel and receive/impart information on abortion services and it is upheld that when a woman’s life is at risk, including in cases of potential suicide, abortion should be lawful.

2002: Another referendum is held to ask if we want to remove the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion but it is rejected by the Irish people.

2005: Three women brought the case of ABC vs Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights saying that unclear and restrictive Irish laws around the issue violate the European Convention of Human Rights. They had all traveled for abortions and received inadequate after care in Ireland.

2007: A pregnant 17 year old whose foetus was missing a lot of its brain and skull was not allowed to travel for an abortion by the Health Services Executive but it went to the High Court and the decision was overturned.

2010: In the case of ABC vs Ireland the ECHR found that Ireland was violating ECHR law by not having a clear procedure for people who were legally entitled to an abortion or clear guidelines for when it was legal in the first place (even though we have said it is legal if the woman’s life is at risk).

2012: Savita Halappanavar dies in a Galway hospital as a result of being refused a termination, which would have stopped her contracting fatal septicaemia.

2013: Ireland’s first abortion legislation is drafted. Click here for more details.

Some campaigns and folks to keep an eye on…

Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland – the broad, national campaign for reproductive justice

Action on X – organising Saturday’s protest and pushing for X legislation

Doctors for Choice – the medical side of the reproductive choice movement

Termination for Medical Reasons – a group made up of parents who are campaigning for abortion when a foetus is not viable

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