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Ethical arguments for access to abortion services in the Republic of Ireland: recent developments in the public discourse
  1. Joan McCarthy1,
  2. Katherine O’Donnell2,
  3. Louise Campbell3,
  4. Dolores Dooley4
  1. 1 School of Nursing and Midwifery, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
  2. 2 UCD School of Philosophy, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
  3. 3 Department of Anatomy, School of Medicine, National University of Ireland Galway
  4. 4 RCSI Department of General Practice, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joan McCarthy, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Brookfield Health Sciences Complex, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland; j.mccarthy{at}


The Republic of Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the world which grants to the ‘unborn’ an equal right to life to that of the pregnant woman. This article outlines recent developments in the public discourse on abortion in Ireland and explains the particular cultural and religious context that informs the ethical case for access to abortion services. Our perspective rests on respect for two very familiar moral principles – autonomy and justice – which are at the centre of social and democratic societies around the world. This article explains the context for the deployment of these concepts in order to support the claim that the current legislation and its operationalisation in clinical practice poses serious risks to the health, lives and well-being of pregnant women, tramples on their autonomy rights and requires of them a self-sacrifice that is unreasonable and unjust.

  • abortion
  • autonomy
  • women
  • feminism

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  • Contributors All four of the authors made a substantial contribution to the conception of the work, each draft, revision and approval of final content. JMcC wrote Draft 1 of the article based on contribution on reproductive autonomy from LC; contribution on Irish reproductive history from KO’D; contribution on morality and legality from DD. LC, KO’D and DD provided feedback and suggested amendments on 4 drafts and read final draft. All four authors agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work and ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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