Wednesday 18 September 2019

Final Results

Repeal the Eighth Amendment?

Yes 66.40% 1,429,981

No 33.60% 723,632

  • Constituencies declared: 40/40

Referendum Hub

How we got here - a timeline of 'Repeal' and abortion in Ireland

Health Minister Simon Harris speaks to the media at the Together for Yes billboard launch in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Health Minister Simon Harris speaks to the media at the Together for Yes billboard launch in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

John Downing and Denise Calnan

Ireland has voted with a resounding 'Yes' to repeal the Eighth Amendment.


Within the last 35 years, we've been asked a total of five questions and it is worth doing a quick look back to see how we managed through.


So we are back at the start of all this in the autumn of 1983. Abortion had always been illegal but it was not cited in the 1937 Constitution in the same way as a prohibition on divorce was.

A number of anti-abortion activists wanted a constitutional prohibition to make future abortion legislation more difficult. They persuaded both big political leaders – Charlie Haughey, of Fianna Fáil, and Dr Garret FitzGerald, of Fine Gael – to go with the idea of a referendum. This eventually happened on September 7, 1983, after a national debate which historian Diarmaid Ferriter has described as “one of the most poisonous witnessed in 20th century Ireland”.

On the day, just 54pc of the people turned out to vote. The prohibition was carried by a vote of 2:1.

The 35-year journey of political and legal contention had begun. It would repeatedly take us through the national courts and international tribunals like the EU Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.

The past referendums have been characterised by sometimes poor and abusive debate. They have had limited appeal beyond the people who hold strong convictions on either side of the argument.

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Taoiseach Charles Haughey. Stock picture


The High Court rules that the availability of information on abortions outside the state to women in Ireland is in breach of Constitution, as under the 1983 amendment it "undermines right of the child to life". This decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court two years later.


The previous referendum, in November 1992, had put three propositions to the voters: should Ireland guarantee the right to abortion information; should it afford the right to travel for an abortion; should it restrict the grounds for abortion, removing the danger of suicide as a threat to the mother’s life.

This one was very fraught indeed, caused by the heart-rending case of a 14-year-old girl, pregnant as a result of rape, who was prevented from leaving the country to have an abortion.

A legal appeal on behalf of the girl, known as “X”, led to the Supreme Court ruling that the mother’s life had to take precedence in cases such as this, and that the teenage mother’s life was at risk due to threat of suicide.

Later that same year, voters upheld the right to travel outside the jurisdiction for an abortion and to get abortion information. A third amendment, which would have removed suicide as grounds for allowing abortion, was defeated. Turnout that day, in November 1992, was 68.2pc. But it was boosted because the referendum was held the same day as a general election.

It took more than 20 years to get some clarity on the issue via legislation.


Many people – even keen students of current affairs – do not remember the last referendum which was on March 6, 2002.  It was the product of years of careful consultation by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his health minister, one Micheál Martin.

It was the first attempt to address a 10-year-old demand by the Supreme Court to regularise things.

It arose from the notorious “X case” which had convulsed the nation in 1992. It is remembered by some as a retrograde move, since it included a proposal to remove a threat of suicide as grounds for permitting an abortion due to a risk to the mother’s life.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Photo: INM

But at the time it was acknowledged that Ahern and Martin had built a deal of consensus around it in civil society.

The Catholic bishops gave guarded approval as did many leading obstetricians.

Fine Gael and Labour in opposition opposed that referendum. On the day, turnout was poor at 43pc, and bad weather in the western half of the country, set against a dry day in Dublin, was seen by some as a factor in the outcome.

It was defeated by 0.8pc, or just 10,000 votes.

Mr Ahern, who swept to a general election victory weeks later, made it clear he would not engage with the issue any time soon thereafter.

That political neglect of the topic would persist until July 2013 when Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny brought in the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act, losing eight of his parliamentary party in the process.


Three women take a case against Ireland in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR ruled that the State failed to provide clarity on the legal availability of abortion when the mother's life is at risk.


President Michael D Higgins signs the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill into law. Eight Fine Gael TFs were removed from the party because of their vote against the bill. The act, which came about under Taoiseach Enda Kenny, gives a woman access to an abortion where there is a "real and substantial risk to life, including risk of suicide."

In June 2015, the Department of Health confirmed that 26 terminations were carried out under the act in 2014.

Enda Kenny and James Reilly


The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reported its concerns at Ireland's "highly restrictive legislation on abortion" and calls for a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.


The Citizens' Assembly meet for the first of five weekends to consider the Eighth Amendment.

Specially-convened Citizens' Assembly (stock photo)


Ireland votes an overwhelming 'Yes' to repealing the Eighth Amendment, removing Article 40.3.3 from the constitution; "The states 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."

A cross party group of TDs and Senators take part in the Together for Yes billboard launch in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

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