The Supreme Court has overturned a High Court ruling that the unborn have rights in the constitution outside the 8th amendment.
The unanimous verdict from the seven judges said the rights of the unborn in the Constitution are confined to the right to life alone.
This means the Government can proceed with trying to call a referendum on the 8th amendment.
Chief Justice Frank Clarke gave the verdict from Limerick.
“Neither the Common Law cases and statutory provisions, nor the pre and post 8th amendment cases relied on when analysed and understood, support the High Court’s conclusions that the unborn possess inherent constitutionally protected rights other than those expressly provided for in Article 40.3.3”.
The Supreme Court was tasked with considering a High Court ruling that could have had implications for the planned abortion referendum.
It related to an immigration case in which a Nigerian man tried to fight his deportation by saying his child was due to be born shortly, and that child would have the full rights of an Irish citizen.
In the Supreme Court appeal, it was argued the unborn child had rights – including the right to have both parents there when it was born.
The State refuted this, saying the only right the unborn has is the right to life which is contained in the 8th amendment.
What this means
The Government can now proceed with trying to call a referendum on the 8th amendment.
It is likely a special Cabinet meeting will be called on Thursday to approve the referendum bill, which outlines what question people will be asked to vote on.
That then needs to be approved by the Dáil and Seanad before the date of the referendum will be known.
The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants the Dáil to sit on Friday to start debating the bill.
If it does not, then a May referendum will be hard to bring around – because the Dáil does not sit next week and is off for a further two weeks over Easter.
Dublin Senator Catherine Noone, who chaired the Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment, has welcomed the “clear and unanimous decision” by the Supreme Court regarding the rights of the unborn.
Senator Noone said: “Today the Supreme Court made a landmark decision, this judgement will allow us to move forward to a May referendum on the 8th amendment.
“It is my belief that the only rights afforded to the unborn under the current constitutional status, is the right to life provided for in the Eighth Amendment and this does not extend to other areas of the Constitution”
“I urge us all to accept the Court’s judgement in good faith and move forward in a civilised and respectful manner, as has been the case for the most part so far”.
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said: “I welcome the clarity offered by today’s Supreme Court decision and look forward to continuing the process of putting the 8th amendment before the Irish people by way of referendum.
“I will continue to work with Government colleagues to ensure the referendum can proceed as quickly as possible.”
While Labour representative on the Committee on the 8th Amendment, Jan O’Sullivan, said: “I welcome this very clear and unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court today.
“The decision paves the way for the Oireachtas to debate with clarity the wording of the proposed Government referendum, which is coming before the Dáil this week.
“I look forward to engaging in the debate with my Oireachtas colleagues, and would again call on the Government to ensure it keeps to its timetable of a May referendum on the Eighth Amendment so that the maximum number of people will be available to vote on the issue, many for the first time.”