State papers reveal pro-life amendment concerns

Friday 28 December 2012 22.09
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Charles Haughey replaced Garret FitzGerald in March 1982, only to lose power again in December
Charles Haughey replaced Garret FitzGerald in March 1982, only to lose power again in December
The Department of Foreign Affairs suggested the proposed amendment could be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights
The Department of Foreign Affairs suggested the proposed amendment could be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights

Newly released State papers from 1982 reveal serious concerns within the Government of the time about the proposed pro-life amendment to the constitution.

The files, released under the 30-year rule, show worries about the effect on medical treatment for pregnant women, and highlighted the possibility of legal challenges under the European Convention on Human Rights.

1982 saw two general elections, and two changes of Government, as Charles Haughey replaced Garret FitzGerald in March, only to lose power again in December.

Mr Haughey's first Attorney General, Patrick Connolly, warned that existing law was not clear on which operations were allowed if the life of the mother was in serious danger, and warned of "worrying ambiguities" in the attitude of the Pro Life Amendment Campaign on this issue.

His successor, John Murray, did not think the proposed wording would diminish the rights of the mother - instead, he warned that making the right to life of the unborn subject to the right to life of the mother could "open the door" to abortion unless the courts interpreted the wording narrowly.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, suggested the proposed amendment could be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights, while officials said legislation would be needed to clarify the legal position if the amendment was accepted - legislation that is still controversial 30 years later.