Abortion Law in Ireland

  • Brenda Daly
Reference work entry


The issue of abortion has always been a controversial social and political topic in Ireland so much so that there is a marked reluctance by the Irish government to deal with the subject (Healy, Medical malpractice law. Dublin: Round Hall Press; 2009 [1], Sheridan, Irish Times, 2012 2, Kelly Irish Examiner, 2012 [3]). Irish laws on abortion have typically been very restrictive and draconian in nature. The lack of access to abortion and to information about abortion services in Ireland has been subject to criticism for failing to protect women’s rights (Human Rights Watch, A state of isolation – access to abortion for women in Ireland [Internet]. New York: Human Rights Watch; 2010 [4]).

The Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann 1937) governs the lawfulness of abortion, and both the Irish Constitution and legislation regulate access to abortion services. The current legal position is very unclear as to when women can lawfully have an abortion in Ireland (which has resulted in a lack of clarity as to when medical practitioners can lawfully perform an abortion). A further consequence is the reality that many women in Ireland seeking to have an abortion have to travel to another jurisdiction where it is legally available, a fact that is readily acknowledged by the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament) (The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, Fifth progress report on abortion. Dublin: The Stationery Office; 2000 [5]). Official figures released by the United Kingdom’s Department of Health show that 4,402 abortions were performed on women traveling from the Republic of Ireland in 2010 (constituting 67 % of the abortions performed on non-UK residents) (Department of Health. Abortion statistics, England and Wales: 2010; 2011 [6]).

This chapter explains the current law in Ireland that regulates abortion and access to abortion services. It commences with a brief discussion of the historical position prior to discussing the first significant constitutional changes, in the early 1980s, concerning the guarantee of the right to life of the unborn child and how these affected access to abortion. This chapter then considers the various cases that attempted to challenge the Irish constitutional position in the domestic courts and both the European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights.


Attorney General Unborn Child Abortion Service Lawful Abortion Irish Constitution 
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Further Readings

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Law and GovernmentDublin City UniversityDublinIreland

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