A Critical Look at Some Prominent Arguments for the Yes and No Sides

We are taking a critical look at the arguments used by campaigns on both sides of the issue.  The idea is not so much to find fault with these arguments as to try to work out what is really going on with them. We have looked at the 'Love Both' campaign, the 'Together for Yes' campaign and the 'Abortion Rights Campaign'. We will add a consdieration of the Protect the 8th' campaign shortly.  

(Our references to women and girls should be understood to apply to all people who may become pregnant.)


Section A: ‘No’ to repealing the Eighth

i.e. ‘No’ to allowing abortion in Ireland beyond what is authorised by the 2013 legislation.

We went to the ‘Love Both’ campaign website, and especially to a page entitled “8 Reasons to Vote no”.

Reason 1.   “A baby’s heartbeat starts at 22 days"    Click to show more

Reason 2.   “The Government plans to replace the 8th Amendment with abortion on demand.”     Click to show more

Reason 3.  “The 8th Amendment saves lives”


Reason 4.   “In Britain, 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted.”


Reason 5.   “Abortion can cause psychological harm.”


Reason 6.   “A better vision for Ireland”


Reason 7.   “Repeal of the 8th would hand all the power to politicians to decide our abortion laws”


Reason 7.   “Ireland is a world leader in care for pregnant women”


Section B: ‘Yes’ to repealing the Eighth Amendment

i.e. ‘yes’ to allowing for widespread legal access to the termination of pregnancy in Ireland

We went to the ‘Together for Yes’ campaign website and the website of ‘Abortion Rights Campaign’.  The ‘Together for Yes’ campaign describes seven aspects of the situation as it currently stands for pregnant women and girls in Ireland, under the heading: “Your questions on pregnancy and abortion”.

The website does not present these considerations in the form of arguments to vote yes, but it is possible to piece together the following argument.  The situation as it stands causes suffering to some pregnant women and girls which they would not suffer if the 8th Amendment was repealed, and compassion for this suffering should make us choose to repeal the 8th.

The considerations that are listed concerning the situation as it stands are the following:

  1. Women and girls who are pregnant from rape or incest do not have the opportunity to terminate their pregnancy in Ireland.

  2. Parents who are told that their baby will die at or shortly after birth (fatal foetal condition) have to carry the pregnancy to term if they continue to have their medical treatment in Ireland.

  3. If a woman develops a medical problem during her pregnancy she does not have the opportunity to terminate it in Ireland.

  4. If women in Ireland do have abortions (apart from the 25 per year who can have them in Ireland because their lives are at risk) they must either go abroad, or have them illegally and not under proper medical supervision in Ireland.

  5. If women and girls who have unwanted pregnancies in Ireland lack the funds, the documentation or the robustness of health to travel abroad to have an abortion then they have no way to have medical care to terminate their pregnancies; they are unjustly disadvantaged relative to women who have the funds, documentation and health.

  6. Doctors are not always obliged to put the wellbeing of their female patients first as they must also take into account the wellbeing of the foetus or embryo.

  7. Pregnant women cannot always choose the medical examinations and procedures they are to receive.

Most of these considerations are not contested, though the last two should be qualified.  Doctors are now obliged to put the risk to the life of their female patient first, but if they are weighing up other aspects of the wellbeing of their female patient against the life of the embryo or foetus, the wellbeing of their female patient is not supposed to come first.

The argument is that if the current system allows this sort of suffering at all then a compassionate society should do something about it.  But stated in this way it is not clear why someone who thought that compassion should also be applied to embryos and foetuses would find this argument decisive.  They might feel sympathy for the pregnant rape victim and equally for the baby to be and not be certain that the life and wishes of the pregnant rape victim outweighs any future life and wishes of the baby to be.


The Abortion Rights Campaign has a page entitled “8 Reasons to Repeal the 8th Amendment”.   

Reason 1.   “The 8th Amendment equates the life of a woman to that of an embryo.”


Reason 2.  “The vast majority of women who want and need abortions are unable to access them in Ireland under interpretations of this law.”


Reason 3.  “Women have already died in Ireland having been denied life-saving abortion procedures.”


Reason 4.  “At least 150,000 women have travelled to other countries to procure abortions since 1980.”


Reason 5.  “Thousands of women are unable to travel for abortion services due to family, legal status, financial situation, or health.”


Reason 6.  “People who procure abortion within the country risk a 14 year jail term. Doctors can be jailed too.”


Reason 7.  “The majority of people in Ireland support much wider access to abortion than is permitted under the 8th Amendment.”


Reason 8.  “The life and health of a pregnant woman has a much greater value than our constitution places on it.”

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Reason 1.   “A baby’s heartbeat starts at 22 days”     Click to show less

  • We sometimes do talk about ‘babies’ at this stage of development, but perhaps it is more appropriate medically to talk about ‘embryos’.  A 22-day-old embryo does have the start of what will be their heart and it is indeed beating. But, bear in mind that the embryo is about the size of a poppy seed and of course lacks an awful lot of what the baby will end up having.  It is worth thinking about whether an embryo the size of a poppy seed is really best described as a baby.  Perhaps it is better described as a baby to be.  Throughout this debate the issue of whether to describe an embryo or an early-stage foetus as a baby is a highly contentious one.  
  • 12-week-old foetuses kick and yawn.  They are capable of doing some of the things we associate with fully formed babies – things we associate with their ‘humanity’ and respond to emotionally.  So even though the foetus is only about two inches long, it is common for pregnant women and girls to have developed an emotional attachment to it by this stage.  It may certainly feel to them like a baby to be.  This can make the termination of a pregnancy emotionally very challenging.
  • But the question at issue in the referendum is not whether terminating a pregnancy is a matter of no emotional significance to anyone.  The question is whether women and girls should be barred by law from going through that emotionally difficult procedure in Ireland.


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Reason 2.   “The Government plans to replace the 8th Amendment with abortion on demand.”

  • The government has published its intentions to propose a Bill regulating termination of pregnancies if the result of the referendum is to change the constitution.  Whether that Bill is passed or amended will depend on proceedings in the Oireachtas. So there is still plenty of room for discussion about how restrictive a policy is desirable.  
  • There is a very clear indication that abortion on request after 12 weeks of pregnancy will not be part of the final legislation.