Impossible Floodgates and Unworkable Analogies in the Irish Abortion Debate

Fiona de Londras & Laura Graham
Vol_3_Issue_3_Article_4

Twenty years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Attorney General v X. [1992] 1 I.R. 1 confirmed that there is a limited constitutional right to access abortion in Ireland under Article 40.3.3˚ of Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Irish government has passed the first piece of legislation that would regulate its availability. The debate about the introduction and form of this legislation is rife with floodgate arguments, suggesting (either implicitly or expressly) that the introduction of abortion legislation within current constitutional boundaries would only be a starting point, following which so-called “abortion on demand” would flow. In this article we address three of the core legally-grounded floodgates arguments that are made, outlining how these fears are unfounded, disingenuous, and, more particularly, how comparisons to the British abortion regime are unhelpful, by reference to the constitutional position in Ireland. These arguments relate to: the lack of a time limit on the availability of abortion; suicidal ideation; and the possibility of patient-doctor collusion. This article aims to show that these arguments have no current legal purchase within the Irish context. Rather, the fears and concerns represented by these floodgates arguments are already managed by the very limited constitutional availability of abortion in Ireland. As such, we argue, these arguments ought not to be given undue weight in the debates, which should instead focus on introducing a clear, workable and effective legislative framework for women in Ireland to exercise their right to access an abortion where they wish to do so in a manner that reflects the constitutional position.

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