Ireland’s Supreme Court has ruled that state protections for unborn babies do not extend beyond the right to life.
Sky’s Dublin correspondent Darren McCaffrey said the ruling appears to clear the way for the government’s planned abortion referendum in a country where artificially ending a pregnancy is illegal.
The Supreme Court’s seven judges unanimously ruled that an unborn baby does not have inherent constitutional rights outside the right to life in the contentious Eighth Amendment.
The amendment gives unborn children the right to life, which renders abortion illegal other than in exceptional circumstances.
Chief Justice Frank Clarke told the Supreme Court: “The present constitutional rights for the unborn are confined to the right to life guaranteed in article 40.3.3 (the Eighth Amendment).”
In January, the Irish government mooted holding a May referendum.
It would be the first opportunity in 35 years for voters to potentially change some of the world’s strictest laws on abortion.
Irish leader Leo Varadkar said the exact wording and date could only be set after the Supreme Court judgment in today’s appeal case.
He said if voters backed a change to the constitution through a referendum then the Government would table legislation which would allow unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
In the UK, pregnancies can be terminated up to the 24th week.
The ruling was sparked by a case in which a Nigerian man was trying to revoke a 2008 deportation order made against him on the basis his Irish partner was pregnant at the time.
The high court found his unborn child had rights under the constitution beyond the right to life.
The state appealed and today reversed that decision, with the court deciding that the couple’s unborn child had no constitutional rights beyond the Eighth Amendment.
The ruling did not change the decision to deport the man.
If the Supreme Court had found the child’s rights extended beyond the Eighth Amendment, the referendum might have needed broadening to take in other elements of the constitution, which could have delayed a vote.
Senator Catherine Noone said: “Today the Supreme Court made a landmark decision.
“This judgment will allow us to move forward to a May referendum on the Eighth Amendment.”
She added: “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 judgment in good faith and move forward in a civilised and respectful manner, as has been the case for the most part so far.”