The Supreme Court has ruled that the unborn has no rights under the Constitution other than the right to life in the Eighth Amendment, in a landmark case about the extent of the rights of the unborn.

The State had appealed a High Court finding that the unborn has constitutional rights beyond the right to life.

Chief Justice Mr Justice Frank Clarke said the judgment was lengthy and complex.

But he said it had been possible to reach consensus on the issue and the decision of the seven-judge court was unanimous.

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This is an immigration case involving a Nigerian man, his Irish partner and their child who was just over three weeks away from birth when the proceedings began.

The man wanted the minister for justice to revoke a deportation order made against him.

The High Court found his unborn child had rights under the Constitution beyond the right to life.

The State appealed the finding.

It argued the only right the unborn has is the right to be born and all other constitutional rights, including the right to the care and company of a parent, take effect at birth.

It claimed, upholding the High Court decision, would have a range of difficult to predict consequences.

Lawyers for the man, his partner and child, argued that the State's views were extreme.

They submitted the minister must consider an unborn child's existing or prospective rights.

The seven judges of the Supreme Court found that the minister must take account of the fact that an Irish citizen child in such a case will acquire constitutional rights that may be affected by deportation and upheld the finding of the High Court to this effect.

But the court reversed the High Court's findings in relation to the broader issues affecting the unborn.

It found the unborn did not possess inherent constitutionally protected rights other than those expressly set out in the Eighth Amendment.

It reversed the High Court finding that the unborn was a child as defined by Article 42A of the Constitution.

The judgment comes just two weeks after the case was heard urgently in advance of the planned referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Analysis by Orla O'Donnell

It is now likely the referendum can go ahead as planned at the end of May.

The Government wants to remove the Eighth Amendment and replace it by inserting a new clause saying "provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies".

It took this decision to repeal and replace rather than just repeal because of legal advice that it could be argued the unborn has other constitutional rights and this option was constitutionally safer.

The Supreme Court has now found the unborn does not have other constitutional rights and theoretically that replacement clause may not be necessary, as a legal challenge to abortion legislation is now much more difficult.

It seems there is nothing now preventing the Government from pressing ahead with the referendum as planned, with the wording it had planned.