A ‘Catholic’ Constitutional Identity and the Legalization of Abortion in Ireland

The reference to the Holy Trinity and ‘our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ’ in the preamble of the Constitution of Ireland 1937 are illustrative of the Catholic nature of Irish constitutional identity. The adoption of 8th Amendment in 1983 cemented this further as an explicit constitutional prohibition on abortion was introduced by referendum amidst fears that abortion could be deemed lawful through judicial interpretation. The United Nations Human Rights Committee in Mellet v. Ireland found that the Irish abortion ban violated several articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the state was a party. Thus, Ireland was faced with a clear conflict between its ‘Catholic’ constitutional identity and provisions of international law. This presentation will discuss the context in which this conflict developed as well as how it was ultimately resolved with the legalization of abortion by referendum in 2018.