The Citizens’ Assembly has been convened by the Government to make recommendations to the Oireachtas on a variety of topics, most notably on Constitutional reform. The Assembly has been taking submissions from the public on the first item for discussion, the Eighth Amendment. More information can be found at http://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/. This is my submission.
Title: This is a matter for the Oireachtas, not Bunreacht na hÉireann.
To the members of the Citizens’ Assembly,
Let me start by congratulating and commending you on the work that you are doing on behalf of your fellow citizens. This exercise, and the Constitutional Convention that preceded it, marks a new adventure for Ireland in the shape of deliberative democracy. I wish the enterprise well, and believe it will be of benefit to Irish democracy.
On the substantive issue, the Eighth Amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann: I write to you as a 26-year-old citizen of the Republic. Like all those born after 7 September 1965 and therefore not of voting age when the Amendment was passed by referendum in 1983, I have never had the chance to cast a ballot on whether or not the Constitution should include a provision––prohibitive or otherwise––on the subject of women’s rights during pregnancy with respect to abortion. In this, I am fairly unremarkable.
What might perhaps be more remarkable is that I am the second generation in my family to have reached voting age and yet be denied a vote on this issue. My parents did not reach the franchise age until after the 1983 referendum. I am now older than the age they were when they first became parents. They are amongst the eldest of a generation that passed through the typical age of parenthood in its entirety with the women of that age having their reproductive rights constrained by Constitutional provision, with no democratic consent of theirs sought. No further generation should, in my view, experience the same.
I appreciate that there is a wide variety of views on abortion in contemporary Ireland, and I do not pretend to know where the majority would lie. Indeed, I suspect that where the specifics of abortion legislation might be concerned, there may be a plurality but no absolute majority opinion. In any case, I do not intend to make the case for any particular form of abortion regime here.
What I am suggesting, however, is that the Constitution is an unsuitable place in which to enshrine such a regime. There is no reason that a document such as the Constitution, intended as the bedrock of the State and dedicated to only foundational and fundamental matters, should be used for this. Instead, I believe that the matter of legislating on this issue––regardless of what form this may take––should be left to the Houses of the Oireachtas, with the debate and dynamism and openness to change that this entails. It is my view as a political scientist, as a policy analyst, and most importantly as a citizen, that this is the best way to handle the issue both as a technical matter and as a matter of republican democracy.
I appreciate that there is a somewhat Kantian argument that, if the principle of requiring that an element of the Constitution should be ratified by the majority of people of current voting age was universalised, then little of the document would survive the test. However, the Eighth Amendment is qualitatively different to other elements of the Constitution in the sense that it very specifically targets a certain subset of a certain subset of the population, i.e. those who are biologically capable of becoming pregnant during the period of their lives when this capability is present. In my mind, that exceptional element of the provision only serves to further highlight its unsuitability for inclusion in the Constitution.
I urge you to recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that a referendum be held on the proposal to completely repeal the Eighth Amendment from Bunreacht na hÉireann and make the issue of abortion an entirely legislative matter. Let the people have their say: not just for my generation, which is currently affected by it, but for my parents’ generation, which has spent its entire adulthood living under a regime that it has never had the chance to either endorse or reject.
Yours, with great gratitude and respect for your task,