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 referendum, with 49.6% approval.

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 the "Twenty-sixth Amendment". There has therefore been no successfully enacted "Twenty-fifth Amendment" of the Irish constitution. An earlier proposal called the "Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001" had already been introduced 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 "(Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy)" in the name of the later bill.[2] However, subsequent Constitutional amendments have since included explanatory titles in parentheses.


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. Later in 1992, three separate constitutional amendments on the subject of abortion were put to a vote. One proposed to tighten the law on abortion. The Twelfth Amendment, which would have excluded the risk of suicide as grounds for abortion was rejected. The Thirteenth Amendment, which guaranteed freedom of travel to obtain an abortion abroad, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed access to information, were both approved.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment was a second attempt to exclude the risk of suicide as grounds for an abortion. It was introduced by the Fianna FáilProgressive Democrats coalition government led by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The government presented the amendment as one part of a comprehensive package of changes to address the issue of crisis pregnancy.[3] 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 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; instead 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 given the same protection as provisions of the Constitution, such that it could be amended only be referendum.

Article 40.3.3° reads

3° The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.

The Twenty-fifth amendment would have ultimately added two sub-sections immediately following, as Article 40.3.4° and 40.3.5°:

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.

5° The provisions of section 2 of Article 46 and sections 1, 3 and 4 of Article 47 of this Constitution 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.

Article 40.3.5° ensured that the provisions of Article 46 on Amendments to the Constitution and Article 47 on Referendums would apply to any amendment of this Act.

Proposed Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act[edit]

The Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001 included the text of a proposed Act which would regulate the termination of pregnancy. It would have repealed Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act, 1861.

Section 1 defined abortion as "the intentional destruction by any means of unborn human life after implantation in the womb of a woman". It further stated that abortion did not include "the carrying out of a medical procedure by a medical practitioner at an approved place in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended where that procedure is, in the reasonable opinion of the practitioner, necessary to prevent a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman's life other than by self-destruction". This would have excluded the availability of abortion where there was a risk of life due to suicide.

Section 2 defined abortion as a criminal offence, subject to imprisonment of 12 years or a fine or both.

Section 3 protected conscientious objection.

Section 4 affirmed the freedom to travel and to obtain information about abortion.[4]

Amendment procedure[edit]

It was intended that after the passage of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, the Oireachtas would enact the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act. The Amendment proposed to insert a number of temporary provisions in the Constitution to bridge the period between the enactment of the Twenty-fifth Amendment and subsequent enactment of the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment proposed first to add Article 46.5. This section provided that if the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act were enacted, Article 46.5 would be omitted from every official text of the constitution, and the two new Articles 40.3.4° and 40.3.5° detailed above would be inserted. The Act would have to be in the form prescribed in the Schedule to the Amendment Bill. If no action was taken within 180 days then the whole constitutional amendment would cease to have effect. It also provided that the bill for the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act could not be referred by the President to the Supreme Court or to an ordinary referendum (as it would have jut received the approval of the voters in a referendum).

Referendum result[edit]

Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland Bill, 2002[5]
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


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 Dún 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.


No legislation on abortion followed this referendum. Eleven years later, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 was enacted, which did provide for abortion in circumstances where life was threatened by a risk of suicide.

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