Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002 (Ireland)

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The Twenty-fifth Amendment was a failed attempt to amend the Constitution of Ireland to tighten the constitutional ban on abortion. It would have removed the threat of suicide as a grounds for legal abortion in the state, as well as introducing new penalties for anyone performing an abortion.[1] It was narrowly rejected in the 2002 abortion referendum.

The full title of the proposal was the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001. After it was rejected the number 25 was not reused; instead the next successful amendment of the constitution was entitled the "Twenty-sixth Amendment". There has therefore officially been no successfully enacted "Twenty-fifth Amendment" of the Irish constitution.

Overview[edit]

In 1983 the Eighth Amendment introduced a constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland. The "X Case" in 1992 established the right of Irish women to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide. Following the X Case, three separate constitutional amendments on the subject of abortion were put to a vote in the 1992 abortion referendums. One proposed to tighten the law on abortion. This was the Twelfth Amendment, which proposed that the possibility of suicide was not a sufficient threat to justify an abortion, but was rejected. Two other amendments proposed to liberalise the law in certain ways and were approved. These were the Thirteenth Amendment, which guaranteed freedom of travel to obtain an abortion abroad, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed freedom of speech with respect to the issue.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment was a second attempt to tighten the law on abortion following the rejection of the Twelfth Amendment in 1992. It was introduced by the Fianna FáilProgressive Democrats coalition government of Bertie Ahern. The government presented the amendment as one part of a comprehensive package of changes to address the issue of crisis pregnancy.[2] Among other measures it would have removed the threat of suicide as a grounds for legal abortion and also would have introduced new penalties of up to twelve years in jail, for those performing or assisting abortions. Along with the government parties, the Catholic Church favoured the proposal, it was opposed by Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party and Sinn Féin. The proposal was put to a referendum on 6 March 2002 but was narrowly rejected by 629,041 (50.4%) against to 618,485 (49.6%) in favour.

Proposed changes[edit]

The Twenty-fifth Amendment was much more complex than the proposal that had been rejected in 1992. As well as adding new text to the constitution it proposed to introduce a complete code for regulating the law on abortion. The government did not wish to include this lengthy code in the text of constitution, rather it was to take the form of an Act of the Oireachtas, called the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002. This Act would be mentioned in the constitution and given special protection, so that in future it could only be amended by referendum. The Twenty-fifth Amendment was intended to add the following provisions to the constitution:

  • Article 40.3.4:
In particular the life of the unborn in the womb shall be protected in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act 2002.
  • Article 40.3.5:
The provisions of section 2 of Article 46 [concerning constitutional amendments] and sections 1, 3 and 4 of Article 47 of this Constitution [concerning referendums] shall apply to any Bill passed or deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas containing a proposal to amend the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002, as they apply to a Bill containing a proposal or proposals for the amendment of this Constitution and any such Bill shall be signed by the President forthwith upon his being satisfied that the Bill has been duly approved by the people in accordance with the provisions of section 1 of Article 47 of this Constitution and shall be duly promulgated by the President as a law.

The Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act would, among other provisions, have

  • Defined abortion as the destruction of unborn life after implantation in the womb.
  • Permitted abortion where necessary to prevent loss of life other than by suicide.
  • Reiterated that the right to freedom of travel is not affected by the ban on abortion.
  • Made an unlawful abortion an offence punishable by up to twelve years in prison.

Amendment procedure[edit]

It was intended that the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act would be enacted by the Oireachtas only after the Twenty-fifth Amendment had come into force. This meant that the Amendment was a complex piece of legislation. It proposed to insert a number of temporary provisions in the constitution to bridge the period between the enactment of the Twenty-fifth Amendment and the subsequent enacted of the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment proposed first of all to add a temporary section to the constitution called Article 46.5. This section provided that the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act had to be enacted within 180 days. Once this occurred Article 46.5 would be deleted and two permanent provisions would be added: Article 40.3.4 and Article 40.3.5.

The temporary Article 46.5 provided that if no action was taken within 180 days then the whole constitutional amendment would lapse. It also stated that the bill for the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act could not be referred by the President of Ireland to the Supreme Court or to an ordinary referendum.

The proposed amendment was called the "Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001" because an earlier proposal called the "Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001" had already been introduced. This was as a private member's bill by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin to guarantee Irish neutrality. It had lapsed after its first reading but the existence of that bill necessitated the inclusion of the parenthetical qualification "(Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy)" in the name of the later bill.[3]

Referendum result[edit]

Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland Bill, 2002[4]
Choice Votes  %
Referendum failed No 629,041 50.42
Yes 618,485 49.58
Valid votes 1,247,526 99.47
Invalid or blank votes 6,649 0.53
Total votes 1,254,175 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 2,923,918 42.89

Breakdown[edit]

The result of the referendum showed a strong rural-urban divide. The urban constituencies Cork North Central and Cork South Central voted "no" along with all Dublin city and county constituencies, the commuter-heavy Kildare constituencies and Wicklow, Galway West, Limerick East and Waterford. All other constituencies recorded a "yes" vote. The strongest "no" vote was in Dun Laoghaire where 68% of voters were against the proposed amendment. The strongest "yes" was in Donegal North East which recorded a 70% vote in favour of the amendment.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001". Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Retrieved 13 October 2009. 
  2. ^ "The publication of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill". Government Press Office. 2001. Retrieved 13 October 2009. 
  3. ^ "Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 (PMB)". Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Retrieved 13 October 2009. 
  4. ^ "Referendum Results". Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 

External links[edit]