The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) holds the position that it is the duty of the government to schedule a referendum on the Eighth Amendment at the earliest opportunity.
The Eighth Amendment must be repealed in order for Ireland to fulfill its obligations under international human rights treaties. Every human rights treaty body which has examined Ireland over the past two years has called on Ireland to do exactly this in each of their concluding observations. The recent UN HRC decision in the Mellet case obliges Ireland to immediately bring its laws into compliance with international human rights law, call a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, and ensure accessible and timely procedures for abortion in Ireland.
Under ‘A Programme for a Partnership Government – May 2016’, the government has committed to establish a citizens assembly by November 2016 which will consider the Eighth Amendment. As such, and given the necessity for constitutional reform, it is critical that the structure, composition, and operating practice of the Assembly reflect best practice in line with international human rights standards and medical best practice.
Per the Terms of Reference approved by the Seanad, the Citizens’ Assembly will be “be broadly representative of Irish society” and the Eighth Amendment will be the first item the Assembly will report on. Further, said report and recommendations will be provided to the Houses of the Oireachtas, which, on receipt, will refer the report for consideration to a Committee of both houses for review. The Committee will in turn bring its conclusions to the House for debate. The Assembly must conclude within one year of the date of its first meeting.
ARC’s Expectations of the Citizens Assembly and Expert Advisory Group.
The following details how ARC’s expectations of the Citizen’s Assembly and the Expert Advisory Group should be operationalized in order to be considered a legitimate forum fully representative of the wishes of the electorate and a worthwhile step towards meaningful constitutional reform.
Relative to the Assembly process, ARC is calling on the government to ensure that it is “broadly representative of Irish Society”. This would require the composition of the assembly to reflect the level of support demonstrated for repealing the Eighth amendment in multiple and recent independent opinion polls. ARC expects that there will be a representative higher sampling of women based on recent publications by the CSO on the preliminary 2016 census data for participation.
The processes of the Citizen’s Assembly must:
- Be guided by the principle of ensuring women and girls full and unfettered access to their human rights, dignity, health and medical best practice;
- Be appropriately resourced with comprehensive, accurate, factual and truthful information on the Eighth Amendment’s harmful impact on women and girls, their health care and their self-determination. These resources must be clearly referenced and publically available;
- Invite and utilise submissions from recognised international and national experts including international bodies such as the WHO, and Irish women who have had abortions under the current regime;
- Educate members, the Oireachtas, and the wider public on:
o The real and pervasive consequences of the Eighth amendment on the wellbeing of women, separating fact from myth and misrepresentation
o The disparate and discriminatory impact of the Eighth amendment on the provision of health care services to all pregnant people
o The legally binding nature of Ireland’s obligations to the UN human rights treaties;
- Consult with recognised domestic and international experts who provide factual information, data and research which is grounded, evidence based and thoroughly screened to ensure inaccurate, misleading or intentionally skewed information is expunged.
- Underscore the criticality of prompt call for a referendum and the government’s duty in relation to this.
ARC calls on the government to ensure that the Citizens’ Assembly develop and communicate their operating principles to include absolute transparency and open and full communication in all aspects of their work. This will require the Citizens’ Assembly and the Expert Advisory Group to proactively make available to the general public the full list of experts, materials and advice provided.
 Ratio of female to male in 2016 was 1000:978 available at http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-cpr/censusofpopulation2016-preliminaryresults/copc/