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Citizens Assembly Speak: Ireland Call For Change

Citizens Assembly on the Eight Amendment

Calls for a referendum on abortion are now more deafening than ever as the Citizens Assembly debating the 8th Amendment voted overwhelmingly for women to have the right to abortion.

Back in Dec 2016, political commentator David Van Reybrouck heralded Ireland as the most innovative democracy in Europe as they were about to kick off a Citizens Assembly on constitutional reforms on abortion legislation.

Well the results are in from the 99 ordinary assembly members and Ireland continues to push for progression:

89% voted for Irish women to be legally permitted abortions if there is likely to be a foetal abnormality likely to result in death before or after birth.

69% voted there should be no restriction on the gestational age of the foetus in this regard.

80% said there should be no restriction on termination even if there was no risk of death shortly before or after birth.

72% of the assembly feel socioeconomic reasons should allow women to gain an abortion.

50% stated a termination in this case needed to take place before 22 weeks.

64% voted that there should be no restriction on women having a termination.

What Now?

The landmark decision represents a huge break from the strictly conservative attitude towards abortion that has traditionally prevailed in Ireland.

"The recommendations you have made certainly have called for a change to the status quo," said Supreme court judge Mary Laffoy, who oversaw the assembly. The assembly's recommendations will be passed on in a report to the Irish legislature for consideration in June.

The Assembly is a purely advisory body, and as such, the vote is not legally binding. However, the decisions of the assembly are expected to be influential on whatever action the Oireachtas might eventually take on the issue of abortion in Ireland. If this recommendation was accepted by the Oireachtas it would mean that a referendum would be required.

It is, without a doubt, a clear mandate to the Irish government to provide abortion on request and firmly putting women at the center of the discussion, finally. But like all debates, there are two sides to this one. The results coming from Dublin Castle have been ridiculed as not being a fair representation of all Irish citizens. The backlash, although expected, describes the Citizens Assembly of 99 people as a small focus group. Saying it could not represent over 4 million people in any meaningful way.

For many, a Citizens Assembly is a solid example of participative democracy. They aim to be exemplars of an informed balanced deliberation. To learn more about public consultation methods, click here..

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