Consequences of the 1983 Referendum
The anti-choice movement built on their victory in 1983 by using the
constitution as a battering ram against organisations they
politically opposed and to restrict access to contraception and
counselling services. We feel that it is necessary to outline in
detail some of the consequences of the Eighth amendment:
The Eighth Amendment, from it's introduction to the constitution,
has been used to attack the rights of women in Ireland, and a number
of fundamental freedoms applying to the population in general.
(1) Attacks on the right to distribute and receive
(2) Attacks on the right to health care and personal privacy.
(3) Attacks on the right to freedom of expression and movement.
The intention of the 1983 amendment - in the eyes of it's
supporters - was to introduce an absolute ban on abortion into the
constitution with the aim of preventing the legislature or the courts
from ever liberalising abortion on the grounds of personal privacy or
the repeal of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.
Once the 1983 amendment in the constitution the anti-abortion
fundamentalists who had campaigned for it moved on to further
restrict the civil and legal rights of Irish women. These activities
- Contraception - A campaign to prevent access to legal methods
of contraception - such as the morning after pill, some forms of
birth control pill and the IUD - with the claim that these
medications were 'abortifacient'. Since the 1983 amendment did not
define the 'start of life' they claimed that it covered 'life from
conception' and that therefore these forms of contraceptives
should be covered by the amendment, and hence banned.
- Pre-natal Testing - Article 40.3.3 was used as the basis for a
campaign against the availability of pre-natal testing to pregnant
women. Ethics Committees in some hospitals refused to provide this
service on the basis that, due to the ban on abortion, nothing
could be done about any foetal abnormality discovered via testing.
Women seeking such medical procedures had to travel to outside the
juristiction to avail of them.
- Counselling - In September 1984 Mary Lucey, President of SPUC,
spoke at a 'Youth Life International' conference in Dublin where
she called for laws, based on the 8th amendment, to close down
pregnancy counselling centres which provided information on
abortion. At this time too calls were made to ban British
publications which carried advertisements for pregnancy related
services which included abortion.
- Counselling In 1986 court cases were taken by SPUC to obtain
injunctions against women's health centres which provided
non-directive counselling and referrals to abortion clinics. In
1987 and 1988 this campaign was extended to the Students' Unions
of TCD and UCD and the Union of Students in Ireland.
- Health Information - In 1991 basic women's health books were
removed from public libraries in Dublin because they contained
medical information about abortion.
- Censorship - In 1992 2,000 copies of the Guardian newspaper
for 21st May were destroyed on entry to the country as it
contained a advertisement for Marie Stopes clinics. Prior to this
the court restrictions on abortion information had led to the
blanking out of advertisements for pregnancy related services in a
number of British magazines on sale in Ireland.
The victory of the anti-abortion groups in inserting article
40.3.3 into the constitution in 1983 emboldened them to extend their
campaign against many other aspects of womens' rights to reproductive
control of their bodies and lives. The lack of any legislation
clarifying the legal meaning of article 40.3.3 meant that anti
abortion groups adopted a strategy of defining and expanding it's
application through the courts. There is no reason to believe that
another anti-abortion constitutional amendment would not be exploited
in this way by anti-choice groups, leading to further political and
The Dublin Abortion Rights Group policy supporting the deletion of
article 40.3.3 is based on an analysis of the negative effects which
have flowed from the passage of the Eighth Amendment in 1983.