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Ireland announces it will hold referendums on abortion, blasphemy in summer and winter 2018

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar marched with LGBT Humanists at this year’s Belfast Pride.

Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar, has announced in Parliament that referendums repealing the country’s bans on abortion and blasphemy will take place in 2018.

A vote on abortion rights, announced for April or May 2018, could finally see the abolition to the controversial eighth amendment to the Irish Constitution, which currently gives a foetus the status of citizen – something that is unique globally.

The second vote, scheduled for winter 2018, follows on from controversy in May around a police investigation into comments made by Humanists UK patron Stephen Fry, which led to renewed calls for the law against blasphemy to be removed.

Humanists UK and its section Northern Ireland Humanists have welcomed the announcement, which represent significant steps towards the full realisation of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and the realisation of free speech and expression in the Republic of Ireland.

Abortion in Ireland

Under current law, abortion in Ireland is illegal unless there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. A woman convicted of having an illegal termination can face up to 14 years in prison. Currently there are virtually no exceptions to the law on abortion, even when pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or in cases where there is a diagnosis to fatal foetal abnormality.

According to Ireland’s leading sexual health charity, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), thousands of women are forced annually to seek pregnancy terminations aboard. The IPFA have reported that between 1980 and 2016 at least 168,703 women and girls travelled to abortion clinics in England and Wales. Last year, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Ireland’s abortion laws are ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading’ and that forcing Irish women and girls to seek terminations abroad contravenes international human rights treaties. International outcry has been echoed in Ireland. In April this year, a Citizen’s Assembly, convened by the Government to suggest constitutional reforms and made up of 99 members of the public, voted to recommend that current abortion laws were reformed.

Blasphemy law in Ireland

On blasphemy, France, Malta, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark have repealed their blasphemy laws since Humanists UK helped co-found the End Blasphemy Laws campaign two years ago. As well as Ireland, both Canada and New Zealand are actively considering repeals.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘The repeal of Ireland’s anti-abortion and anti-blasphemy laws will be huge steps in the right direction for the Republic of Ireland. On abortion, it is a terrible state of affairs when a country’s women and girls have to travel far away to receive pregnancy terminations. And also raises the question of inequality. Only those that can afford to travel abroad are able to seek help, while those that are less well-off are burdened. We believe all women in Ireland and around the world should be able to receive free, safe and legal abortions local to them.

‘On blasphemy, the Republic of Ireland’s anti-blasphemy law has not been used much in recent years, but countries all over the world, which do actively use their laws against blasphemy, frequently justify their existence by the presence in western countries of so-called “dead” blasphemy laws, meaning their mere presence on the statute books continues to do harm. Therefore, this proposed repeal is very welcome.

‘With the Republic of Ireland moving in the right direction, and the Isle of Man also looking to make abortion legal up to 12 weeks, Northern Ireland is left increasingly isolated as one part of the UK and Ireland to still have abortion illegal in virtually all circumstances – as well as still having a blasphemy law on the books. We urge Northern Irish politicians to take prompt steps to fix both iniquities.’


For further comment or information contact Richy Thompson, Director of Public Affairs and Policy at or 020 7324 3072.

Watch Leo Varadkar’s announcements:

Read more about the End Blasphemy Laws campaign:

Read more about Humanists UK’s international campaigns:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion:

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