1 Oct 2017

Thousands demand change to Ireland abortion law

12:46 pm on 1 October 2017

Tens of thousands of people have marched through Dublin to demand change to the Republic of Ireland's abortion laws.

Protesters hold up placards as they take part in the March for Choice, calling for the legalising of abortion in Ireland after a referendum announcement.

Protesters hold up placards as they take part in the March for Choice, calling for the legalising of abortion in Ireland after a referendum announcement. Photo: AFP / Paul Faith

The March for Choice is the first major demonstration since the Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said he wanted to hold a referendum on abortion next summer.

The country's abortion laws are some of the strictest in Europe.

Terminations are only allowed when the mother's life is in danger.

The Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution, introduced in 1983, gives an equal right to life to a pregnant woman and an unborn child.

However, thousands of women a year go abroad to have an abortion. The maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion in Ireland is 14 years in prison.

Campaigners gathered at Parnell Square in the city on Saturday afternoon.

They made their way through the city to the gates of the Irish parliament.

Anti-abortion activists staged counter events in the city and across Ireland to warn against relaxation of the current law.

A pro-choice rally was also staged outside the Irish Embassy in London on Saturday, with campaigners highlighting the numbers of Irish women who have travelled to the UK for an abortion in the last three decades.

The Irish government has set up a parliamentary body to advise on the wording for the referendum.

In Northern Ireland, which has restrictive regional abortion laws dating back to 1861, abortion is only allowed in specific circumstances if the mother's life is at risk as the region does not fall under the UK's 1967 Abortion Act. Instances of abortion following rape, or incest, are illegal. Only this month, medical staff who make referrals to England - where Northern Irish women can freely access the health service for abortions - were told they would not face a risk of criminal prosecution.

In New Zealand, abortion is legal with the approval of two certifying doctors if they agree a pregnancy would result in serious danger to mental or physical health.

- BBC / RNZ

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs