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Defending life
from conception to natural death


Irish Supreme Court overturns ruling on constitutional rights of the unborn

7 March 2018

​Sitting in Limerick, the Supreme Court overturned the previous ruling that the unborn has rights beyond the right to life.

The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that unborn children have no rights in the Irish constitution apart from the right to life, as enshrined in the Eighth Amendment.

In a landmark judgement, the seven judge court this morning overturned a decision made by the High Court last summer that an unborn child has rights in law beyond the constitutionally protected right to life. This ruling removes a significant obstacle in the government's plans to hold a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment in late May.

Wide implications

The High Court decision involved a Nigerian man in a relationship with an Irish woman, who was seeking Irish residency on the basis that he was the father of her unborn child. Mr Justice Richard Humphreys found that unborn children, including the baby of a parent facing deportation, enjoys "significant" rights and legal protection at common law, by statute, and under the Constitution, "going well beyond the right to life alone".

Determined to remove rights from the unborn

The State sought and secured a fast-track appeal to the Supreme Court against these findings, which could have derailed or delayed its plans to hold a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment and giving the Oireachtas power to legislate abortion. 

The State insisted the unborn has no constitutionally protected rights beyond the right to life in Article 40.3.3 and cannot invoke, or have invoked on its behalf, any other constitutional rights, a position that Senior Counsel Maurice Collins described as extreme, striking and startling.

Exposing babies to unrestricted abortion

Both the Save The 8th Campaign and the Pro-Life Campaign have said that the ruling highlights the importance of retaining the Eighth Amendment, as without it, the unborn would have no rights at all.

Pat Buckley, SPUC's Republic of Ireland Officer said:  "This perverse ruling makes it abundantly clear that  if Article 40.3.3 is repealed unborn babies will not only lose their current constitutional  protection but will be exposed to abortion on demand up to birth.

"It also vindicates the decision of the Irish people to insert the 8th Amendment into the Constitution in 1983 and underlines the vital importance of retaining it in the Constitution. We must all redouble our efforts to ensure that the 8th Amendment is retained and that unborn babies are properly protected."

The Government now intends to publish the legislation for the proposed referendum tomorrow, and it could be debated in the Dail as early as the same evening.

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