The National Union of Students UK, the National Union of Students Scotland and the National Union of Students Wales actively support the NUS-USI mandates regarding:
(i) the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland; and
(ii) solidarity with the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment in the Republic of Ireland.
Individuals who are denied abortion care in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland travel in their thousands to access abortion in Great Britain every year. More Irish students move to the UK for third level education than any other state outside the Republic of Ireland.
The National Union of Students and its member unions support these mandates by taking the actions outlined in this document. NUS-USI also hopes that this will inspire many students across the UK to join this fight for the shared goal of reproductive justice in two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.
NUS UK will imminently be launching a UK wide ‘Home to V8te’ campaign alongside NUS-USI to campaign for Irish students studying in institutions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to travel home to RoI to vote in the referendum on the 8th amendment on the 25th May. More information can be found here: https://hometovote.com/.
NUS-USI works with USI to campaign for abortion reform which is specific to the Republic of Ireland (repeal of the 8th Amendment).
NUS-USI also asks NUS UK, NUS Scotland, NUS Wales member unions to note that separate abortion reform is also required in Northern Ireland as the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution does not apply in Northern Ireland.
The Irish government must hold a referendum to determine whether the 8th Amendment will be repealed because any change to the Irish constitution must be approved by referendum.
The law which criminalises abortion in Northern Ireland (the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act) can be reformed by the ordinary legislative process in Northern Ireland Assembly or the UK Parliament under direct rule. No referendum is required. In February 2018 CEDAW urged Westminister as the state party to act urgently to reform the abortion law in Northern Ireland as the law currently constitutes a grave violation of human rights. Polls and surveys consistently demonstrate that a majority of people in Northern Ireland, regardless of their party political affiliation, support abortion reform.
Cross-border collaboration and solidarity are central features of abortion rights activism on the island of Ireland and NUS-USI is firmly committed to this approach.
We have provided a written briefing on the abortion rights campaigns and a list of actions NUS member unions can take to support these campaigns. The briefing and action points combined can function as a campaign toolkit.
NUS-USI gives permission for the information provided in this document to be reproduced by NUS member unions for the express purpose of campaigning for abortion reform in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
We urge member unions to take the steps outlined in this document to provide support to the campaigns for decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland and repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Reproductive justice delayed is reproductive justice denied: we need free, safe, legal and local abortion access in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland now. The active support and solidarity of NUS and its member unions is vital to help us achieve this aim.
PLEASE SHARE THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION WITH STUDENTS REGARDING THE REFERENDUM (IN THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND) ON THE EIGHTH AMENDMENT:
Can I vote in the referendum on May 25th?
You must be an Irish citizen who is 18 years or over on polling day and on the Electoral Register. Under Section 11 (3) of the Electoral Act 1992, Irish citizens overseas may retain full voting rights for a period of 18 months, should they intend to return to Ireland within that timeframe. This means you are eligible to vote if you are an Irish citizen who has lived in Ireland in the last 18 months.
You can check that you are registered at www.checktheregister.ie
I’m not on the register, what can I do?
Eligible voters who are not on the register can apply for inclusion on the supplementary using application form RFA2 which is available from City and County Councils or can be downloaded from www.checktheregister.ie. Your application must be received by your local authority at least 14 days before polling day (Sundays, public holidays and Good Friday are not counted as days for this purpose). This form must be completed in the presence of a member of An Garda Síochána. You must bring photo identification with you.
Polling Cards: These will be issued to every person registered to vote. The card will provide details of where to vote. Ideally polling cards, along with photo ID, should be taken to the polling station.
Polling Date: The Referendum will take place in 25th May 2018.
Polling Station times: Polling will take place between 7am and 10pm.
Can I apply for a postal vote?
Only those studying in Irish Institutions are eligible for a postal vote. Postal Voting applications ends 22 days (excluding Sunday and Bank Holiday) before polling day.
What is the wording of the proposed amendment?
The Government has proposed to remove article 40.3.3, and insert a new clause stating “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies”. This would be known as the 36th Amendment
ACTION POINTS REGARDING THE CAMPAIGN TO REPEAL THE EIGHTH AMENDMENT:
Below is a short list of actions that the National Union of Students UK, Scotland and Wales, and individual member unions can take to support the NUS-USI ‘Home to V8te’ campaign for Irish students studying in UK institutions to travel home to vote in the repeal referendum in Ireland on the 25th May:
– Launch a Home to V8te campaign on your campus
– If your union is able to, set up a travel fund to assist students to get home to vote
– If your union is able to, fundraise for Alliance for Choice and the Abortion Support Network
Only Irish citizens or those resident in Ireland may lawfully donate to the Together for Yes campaign. However, SUs can help the broader struggle for abortion rights on the island of Ireland by donating to Alliance for Choice, or the Abortion Support Network (a charity which helps people from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to travel for abortion care):
ABORTION RIGHTS CAMPAIGNING IN NI AND THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
1. Background to the campaign for decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland
• Abortion is available in Northern Ireland only where there is a risk to the life or long term mental or physical health of the pregnant person, which excludes cases where there is a fatal foetal abnormality or a pregnancy resulting from sexual crime. In most circumstances, abortion is a criminal offence punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA).
• The 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland. NUS-USI calls for the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland rather than the extension of the Abortion Act for a number of reasons:
i. The Abortion Act did not decriminalise abortion in Great Britain. The Act simply provides a legal defence to prosecution under the 1861 OAPA for medical professionals who perform abortions.
ii. Section 1 of the Abortion Act requires two medical professionals to sign off on an abortion procedure. This legal rule does not apply to any other aspect of reproductive healthcare in the UK. The gatekeeping inherent in this rule is highly problematic.
iii. Subsections (a) to (d) of Section 1 of the Abortion Act have the effect of pathologising the choice to end a pregnancy. The grounds for abortion under the Act frame the decision to have an abortion exclusively as a matter of health or welfare, regardless of the specific circumstances of the person seeking an abortion. The grounds set out in the Abortion Act run contrary to the principles of reproductive justice because none of the grounds for abortion under the Act explicitly allow an individual to access an abortion simply because they do not wish to remain pregnant.
iiii. We share the view of the Royal College of Midwives that abortion should be governed by the same robust regulatory and ethical frameworks as other medical procedures.
• In 2013 the Northern Ireland Department of Health issued draft guidelines on medical termination of pregnancy which emphasised that medical professionals will be prosecuted if they perform abortions outside the law. These guidelines have had a chilling effect on medical professionals within the Northern Ireland NHS: the number of abortions performed on the Northern Ireland NHS fell from 51 in 2012/13 to 13 in 2016/17.
• In early 2017 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) implemented a crackdown on the procurement of Mifepristone and Misoprostol to induce abortion. These medications appear on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines and are already used in NI hospitals for miscarriage management and the very limited number of lawful medical abortions. However, Mifepristone and Misoprostol are regarded as ‘poison’ under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act for the purpose of criminalising abortion in Northern Ireland.
• The Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service has initiated criminal proceedings under sections 58 and 59 of the OAPA for unlawful procurement of abortion and abortifacient medications in a minimum of three separate cases since 2016. An April 2016 case resulted in a suspended sentence of 3 months’ imprisonment, and in January 2017 a couple received formal cautions for attempting to procure an abortion with Mifepristone and Misoprostol. There is an ongoing prosecution against a mother who procured abortifacient medications for her teenage daughter.
• Given that Health and Justice ministries are now devolved to Northern Ireland, abortion is a devolved issue. However, international human rights bodies have repeatedly notified the UK government that it is the state party responsible for vindicating the human rights which are denied to people in Northern Ireland under the current law. Human rights duties are not devolved. CEDAW concluded in its February 2018 report that UK government violates the rights of women by allowing the denial of abortion access in Northern Ireland to continue.
• Although people who travel from Northern Ireland to England to access a termination are eligible to receive free abortion care on the NHS as of November 2017, the cost and logistics of arranging transport, accommodation, time off work and childcare continue to present practical barriers to accessing abortion outside Northern Ireland.
• Obtaining an early medical abortion by purchasing abortion pills online is a method of abortion which is frequently relied upon by people who face additional barriers when travelling to access abortion, or find it impossible to travel altogether. Victims and survivors of domestic violence, people with disabilities and people with caring responsibilities can find themselves in this position.
• In 2015 1,438 women and pregnant people in NI purchased abortion pills online from just one provider (Women on Web).
• The criminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland deters people from accessing aftercare, for fear of being reported to the PSNI if they disclose that they induced an abortion with medication.
• The following organisations have adopted policy in support of the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland: Amnesty International, British Medical Association, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Committee on the Administration of Justice, Women’s Resource and Development Agency, Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform, Fawcett Society, Humanists UK, Alliance for Choice, Gender Jam, Rainbow Project, NUS-USI, Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union and Ulster University Students’ Union.
ACTION POINTS TO ASSIST IN THE FIGHT FOR DECRIMINALISATION OF ABORTION IN NORTHERN IRELAND SPECIFICALLY:
• Write to your MP and request a meeting (reference the recent work of Stella Creasy MP for Walthamstow on abortion access for NI residents)
• If your union is able to, fundraise for Alliance for Choice and the Abortion Support Network
• Collaborate with the London-Irish and Scottish-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign branches (@LdnIrishARC and ScotIrishARC on Twitter)
• Run reproductive justice workshops which raise awareness of the campaigns
• Raise awareness of the campaigns via social media
• Support the BPAS ‘We Trust Women’ campaign which calls for the decriminalisation of abortion throughout the UK, drawing attention to the urgency of this reform for Northern Ireland in particular.
2. Background to the campaign for repeal of the 8th Amendment
The following text is taken directly from https://www.togetherforyes.ie/.
NUS-USI acknowledges that the language used in this information does not make reference to the trans and non-binary community who are also impacted by this legislation, and we would remind anyone who wishes to use any of the information referenced here to ensure that their campaigns and language are trans-inclusive.
What is the Eighth Amendment?
The Constitution of Ireland is the primary source of law in Ireland. It sets out principles all Irish laws must be in line with. The Constitution can only be changed by a public vote in a referendum.
As a result of a referendum in 1983, Article 40.3.3, known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted into our Constitution:
‘The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.’
In 1992 another referendum added text to Article 40.3.3 (13th and 14th Amendments). This resulted from what is know as the ‘x’ case which involved a 14-year old girl who became pregnant as a result of rape and was refused the right to travel abroad for an abortion.
The purpose of the 13th and 14th Amendments is to allow access to information about abortion and the right to travel so that women from Ireland can leave the country to get abortion care abroad.
‘This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state.’
‘This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.’
An additional Amendment that sought to prevent suicide as a reason for accessing abortion was rejected by the Irish electorate in 2002.
What Article 40.3.3 means for women in Ireland
In law a woman and her pregnancy are treated as two separate lives, of equal importance, with separate rights. It means that a pregnant woman in Ireland has limited options.
A hospital can only provide abortion care in Ireland if continuing the pregnancy poses a risk to the life of a pregnant woman, otherwise healthcare treatment must be delayed or denied. This law is called the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act.
If a woman decides to end her pregnancy, our Constitution only allows abortion care for women who are able to travel and have the relevant travel documentation.
An increasing number of women order abortion pills over the Internet, without any help or advice from her doctor. These women are currently breaking the law and face a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
The Eighth Amendment means that a woman or a girl who is pregnant as a result of rape or incest cannot end that pregnancy.
If a woman’s developing baby has a serious condition and will die in her womb, she cannot bring her pregnancy to an end with the support of her own doctor at home in Ireland.
What will we be asked to vote on?
The referendum will ask us if we want to remove (repeal) Article 40.3.3 and insert additional wording allowing the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion in Ireland (enable). This is called ‘repeal and enable’.
What does ‘enable’ mean?
The ‘enable’ part means the Eighth Amendment will be replaced by a clause which states the Oireachtas will have full responsibility to legislate on this matter. For example: “That provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.”
Why is that important?
There have been past legal arguments that suggest the Irish Constitution by its very nature is implicitly anti-abortion, even if the Eighth Amendment is removed from the Constitution. If the people vote explicitly to give power to the Oireachtas to legislate for the provision of abortion, it will be harder to legally challenge the new law.
So the law can never be challenged?
Laws will always be tested because of the importance of judicial oversight. But any judge would have to strongly consider the fact that the people have voted to give the Oireachtas full responsibility to make the laws on their behalf.
If the public vote yes
By removing Article 40.3.3 (the Eighth Amendment) we will be removing the absolute Constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland. This will not change the laws on abortion in Ireland immediately. But it will allow the Dáil to legislate for access to abortion care for women in Ireland.
Does the Eighth Amendment save lives?
People campaigning to retain the Eighth Amendment claim that Irish law ‘saves lives’. They say our restrictive laws result in fewer women having abortions, and that more women will decide to end pregnancies if abortion is a safe and legal option in Ireland.
Fact: There is no record of the numbers of women leaving the country for abortion or importing pills from abroad. There is no way of knowing how many women have been prevented from having abortions.
Fact: Legal restrictions on abortion care do not lead to fewer abortions. Introducing laws to allow abortion do not lead to an increase in the number of women needing abortion care (World Health Organisation).
Fact: There is no link between fertility rates in European countries and their laws on abortion. For example, abortion is accessible and legal in France, and on average women in France have more children than women in Ireland. (Eurostat)
Does abortion happen in Ireland?
Fact: Abortion is legal and happens in Irish hospitals but only when the pregnant woman’s life is directly at risk if she continues with the pregnancy. In 2017 twenty-five abortions were recorded in Irish hospitals for this reason.
Fact: The Constitution also allows women to have abortions outside of Ireland. This limits access to those who can afford to travel and have the necessary documentation to safely leave the country and return. For a woman who has the leave the country. there is no continuity of care from her doctor. Abortions also tend to happen later because of necessary delays in making financial, travel and care arrangements.
Fact: An increasing number of women order abortion pills over the Internet, without advice or support from their doctor. These women currently break the law and risk a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Fact: Banning abortion does not reduce the need for care. The best way to reduce need is through accessible, affordable contraception and education.
If the public vote yes
The planned legislation becomes law, abortion care will be;
safe and legal,
will happen earlier in a woman’s pregnancy,
will happen in Ireland, and
under the care of her doctor.
If a woman’s developing baby has a serious condition and will die in her womb, a woman could decide to end her pregnancy, in Ireland and under the care of her own doctor.
If a woman has become pregnant as a result of rape or incest, she can access care in a way that protects her safety and dignity.
How do pregnancies end?
There are approximately 85,000 pregnancies in Ireland each year.
approximately three-quarters or 65,500 result in live births
260 die just before or during birth
13,270 end in miscarriage
approximately 980 are diagnosed as ectopic and ended in Irish hospitals
25 are considered a direct threat to the pregnant woman’s life and are ended in Irish hospitals
approximately 5,000 are estimated to end in abortion abroad or by way of imported pills
How does abortion happen?
An abortion is the medical process of ending a pregnancy that does not result in the birth of a baby. The pregnancy is ended either by taking medication or having a minor surgical procedure.
Medical abortion (the ‘abortion pill’) – the pregnant woman takes two medications, usually 24 to 48 hours apart, to induce a miscarriage.
Surgical abortion – the pregnant woman has a minor procedure to remove the pregnancy in a hospital and normally goes home soon afterwards.
What is ‘late term’ abortion?
Where a wanted pregnancy turns into a crisis pregnancy at a later stage in pregnancy, access to abortion would be restricted to circumstances where it is considered medically necessary to protect the mental and physical health of the woman.
What is fatal foetal anomaly?
Sometimes a woman will be told that her developing baby is likely to die before or shortly after birth. This is often referred to as a fatal foetal anomaly or fatal foetal abnormality. A woman will experience a wide range of complex emotions when told of such a profound problem with her pregnancy. In these circumstances a woman needs support from her family and doctor to make a decision to continue with her pregnancy or end it before term. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends that following the decision to end a pregnancy due to foetal anomaly, women should be offered the choice of either medical or surgical termination. Both options are safe and effective, and have no effect on subsequent pregnancies.
Currently in Ireland doctors cannot support women to end their pregnancies in such difficult circumstances. A woman who decides to end her pregnancy following such a diagnosis must travel abroad to seek care from doctors that she has never met before.
If the public vote yes
This would allow health professionals to care for women in sometimes extremely difficult and distressing circumstances and support women, couples and families in making the decision that is right for them and their personal circumstances.
Down syndrome and abortion
If we vote yes, will abortion be allowed in Ireland just because the growing baby might have Down syndrome?
No. The proposed legislation will only allow abortion for particular reasons during a restricted period in early pregnancy and under the care of a doctor. After this point, women will only be able to access abortion care if their health or life is at risk, or if the developing baby is diagnosed with a condition that is incompatible with life. The proposed legislation will not allow disability as a reason for abortion.
At present most women decide not to have their pregnancy screened for disability. Some women, particularly if they are in a high risk group, will seek screening privately during early pregnancy. Some may also be alerted to an increased chance of Down syndrome at their 20 week scan. No screening can give a diagnosis of down syndrome and must always be combined with additional diagnostic tests. When a woman receives a diagnosis of Down syndrome, she may continue her pregnancy and the diagnosis allows the family to prepare for the care of a child with special needs. Some families who get a diagnosis of Down syndrome during pregnancy decide to have an abortion abroad.
If the public vote yes
There will be no provision for abortion in Ireland on the basis of a diagnosis of non-fatal disability, like Down syndrome. As is currently the case, some women, particularly if they are at higher risk, will seek screening privately in early pregnancy or if they are alerted during their 20 week scan, and may decide to end their pregnancies abroad if a diagnosis of Down syndrome is confirmed by further tests.
It is never possible to fully appreciate the personal circumstances of another woman or family when it comes to a decision such as this. The majority of women seeking abortion care already have one or more children. Whatever decision she makes is considered and thoughtful and takes into account the well-being of all of her family.
Prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities is a societal issue and should not be used as a reason for denying suitable, compassionate healthcare for all women and families in Ireland.
Consent during pregnancy
Consent is the principle that a person must have the right to give or refuse permission before any type of medical treatment, test or examination. This must be done on the basis of clear and unbiased information provided by a doctor. For consent to be valid, a patient must understand that they have choice.
Consent from a patient is needed regardless of the procedure, whether it’s a physical examination, taking medication or undergoing a medical treatment. The principle of consent is an important part of medical ethics and the international human rights law.
An issue for women
Under the Eighth Amendment, a woman and her pregnancy are treated as two separate lives, of equal importance, with separate rights. As a result, women have limited rights to agree to or refuse a examinations or medical treatment.
This creates difficulties for health professionals. They may be uncertain about a woman’s right to refuse treatment if they believe this may put the pregnancy at risk. Doctors are being advised that legal advice should be sought as to whether an application to the High Court is necessary to override a patient’s wishes. (HSE National Maternity Strategy)
An issue for doctors
The Eighth Amendment also makes a dangerous and unworkable distinction between a pregnant woman’s life and her health. Doctors are obliged to wait until a woman’s life is at risk before being able to provide appropriate health care, i.e. to carry out an abortion. The law, combined with the threat that they might be breaking the law are known to have prevented doctors from being able to act in the best interests of their patients.
This legal uncertainty contributed to the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012. Doctors refused to perform a termination after a diagnosis of inevitable miscarriage. She was told that she could not have a termination because a foetal heartbeat was still present. She died a short while later of sepsis.
If the public vote yes
The Dáil will be able to legislate for women’s consent. If the proposed legislation is passed, there will be no conflict in law between the health of a pregnant woman and the developing life of her pregnancy. Doctors will be able to treat a pregnant woman in the same way that they would treat anyone else. A woman will be able to have the right to informed consent for any treatment, examination or procedure.
3. NUS-USI’s commitment to fighting for reproductive justice in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
A trilateral agreement exists between the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), the National Union of Students (NUS) in the United Kingdom and NUS-USI, the student movement in Northern Ireland. NUS-USI was formed in 1972 to ensure that all students in Northern Ireland could be members of the national union they feel best represents them.
As a result of this agreement, individual NUS-USI members and officers work with liberation campaigns in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. With regard to abortion rights campaigning, NUS-USI members have worked with both the NUS Women’s Campaign and the USI ‘Students for Choice’ Taskforce. NUS-USI officers and members will continue to work with NUS and USI to campaign for reproductive justice throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. We are very pleased that the USI ‘Students for Choice’ campaign highlights the need for abortion reform across the island of Ireland, although at present is primarily focused on the referendum on the 8th Amendment on 25th May 2018. This campaign will continue after the referendum to ensure that the interests of students are represented in the ongoing abortion reform process in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Contact: NUS-USI President, Olivia Potter-Hughes at