Decision due in landmark case over rights of the unborn

Ireland's highest court is expected to deliver judgment on a landmark case on the rights of the unborn later today.

The Supreme Court will rule on the extent of protections conferred by the constitution, with its findings potentially set to impact this summer's referendum on Ireland's restrictive abortion laws.

The contentious Eighth Amendment enshrines the right to life of the unborn - a provision that renders abortion illegal other than in exceptional circumstances.

Supreme Court judges have been considering whether unborn children are entitled to further rights under other sections of the constitution.

The ruling could impact the wording and timing of the anticipated referendum on the fate of the Eighth Amendment.

The case reached the floor of the Supreme Court after the State appealed a High Court judgment that ruled the unborn child did have enshrined rights beyond the right to life.

The High Court case was related to an immigration dispute involving a Nigerian man who argued that he should not be deported because the unborn child being carried by his Irish partner had multiple rights, including the right to the company of its father. The High Court essentially found that the unborn child is entitled to the same constitutional protections as a child.

The State appeal to the Supreme Court was fast-tracked because its outcome could have consequences for the Government's referendum plan.

Citizens are due to be asked whether they want to remove the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, and replace it with wording that would allow politicians to set Ireland's abortion laws in the future.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said if the referendum backs a change to the constitution the Government will table legislation that would allow for unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

If the Supreme Court was to uphold the High Court decision, the referendum may need to be broadened to take in other elements of the constitution that confer rights on the unborn. That could delay the timetable for holding the referendum.

The seven senior judges will deliver their findings in the newly built court complex in Limerick - the first time the Supreme Court has sat in the city.

- PA

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