Repeal or Replace? Debating Ireland’s Eighth Amendment and the Shadow of Judicial Intervention

Ireland is in the process of proposing removal of the 8th Amendment – the provisions, inserted in the 1980s, recognising the right to life of the unborn as equal to that of the mother. The process – which should result in a referendum in June of 2018 – has involved a Citizen’s Assembly debating such changes, a special parliamentary committee conducting detailed hearings, and advice from the government’s legal advisors. One of the core issues – still being disputed – is whether the provision should be repealed without more, or replaced with a wording that specifically excludes judicial intervention in the abortion question. In this paper, I outline this disagreement, and what it shows about legal uncertainty; the role of the judiciary; the priorities of interest and lobby groups; and the particular problems presented by constitutionalising debate on contested moral issues.