Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues

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Ireland and Poland: Two Catholic Nations, Two Views on Abortion

Jasmine Pope

“No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body.”
– Margaret Sanger

Ireland and Poland are both predominately Catholic nations and the Catholic Church views abortion as a grave sin. It is no wonder, therefore, that, the issue of abortion has been at the forefront of these two countries’ political agendas recently. Irish and Polish men and women alike have gathered on either side of the debate: pro-choice or pro-life.

The Situation in Ireland      


On September 7, 1983, by a vote of sixty-seven percent to thirty-three percent, Ireland amended its Constitution to include what is referred to as the Eighth Amendment. Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, “acknowledge[s] the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable, but its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”[i] While the Eighth Amendment does not specifically mention the word abortion, the Amendment essentially criminalizes abortion, under any and all circumstances. While there are other countries that mention the right to life in their Constitution, Ireland’s goes so far as to “give the unborn an equal right to life with a conscious, sentient, thinking, feeling woman.”[ii]

The Situation in Poland


Poland, also a predominately Catholic nation voted not to back a total abortion ban. Thousands of women and men protested in the streets of Warsaw against a legislative proposal for a total ban on abortion.[iii] The proposed legislation would have implemented a ban, even in instances of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life was at risk.[iv] The Minister of Science and Higher Education, Jaroslaw Gowin, states that the protests “have caused us to think and taught us humility.”[v] This is not to say that Poland is completely pro-choice on abortion. Many Polish women end up seeking abortions in Germany or other neighboring European countries because Poland only allows for abortion in the narrow instances previously mentioned. But Poland, unlike Ireland, does not seek to constitutionally implement a total ban on abortion. However, the proposed law would make abortion a criminal offense with a prison term for both the doctor and the woman.[vi]

International law implications?

Ireland and Poland are both parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Article 12, the Right to Health, of CEDAW states that “States parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care … States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy…”[vii] Ireland and Poland are both parties to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Within the ECHR there is the Right to Life (Article 2) and the Right to Respect for Private and Family Life (Article 8). Article 8 states that “there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right.”[viii] Therefore, in light of the purposes of CEDAW and ECHR, does Ireland and/or Poland’s abortion laws violate their international law obligations under these conventions?


Meanwhile Poland, has banned abortion except in instances of rape, incest, or where the mother’s life is threatened, and only within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.[ix] Even so, Poland’s restrictive abortion law requires that two doctors must approve the procedure, which of course, many doctors have declined to do. Ireland and Poland’s regulations on abortion are among the strictest in the world.

Social Media and Grassroots Movements

Times are changing, whether we like it or not. As a result, many movements, either pro-choice or pro-life, have sprung into existence. One particularly interesting movement is Ireland’s Repeal The 8th movement.[x] The movement uses social platforms such as Twitter via the hashtag “#repealthe8th” to spread awareness and to find support beyond Ireland’s borders.

There are petitions and organizations alike, all focused on one thing: repealing the 8th Amendment.[xi] Dublin has become a city ripe with demonstrations from both sides of the aisle on this issue. One protester stated that, “it’s a woman’s right to choose and it is ridiculous to say that anybody else, the state or the church, has [the] right to tell that woman what happens to her body.”[xii] LifeNews has referred to the Eighth Amendment as, “a beacon of human rights protection internationally as it provides legal protection to both unborn babies and their mothers.”[xiii] The Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment stated that “the resulting physical and emotional trauma inflicted on women is inexcusable and an ongoing cause of shame for Irish citizens.”[xiv]  The Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment also noted that the Eighth Amendment “is a key source of Ireland’s failure to reach international human rights standards and of the State’s failure to meet its obligations to vindicate women’s human rights.”[xv]


Conversely, in Poland, pro-life foundations and the Ordo Iuris legal institute pushed for a new bill which would make abortion illegal in all circumstances.[xvi] The Catholic Church in Poland supported this initiative, which would also punish any doctor that performed an abortion with a jail term of up to five years.[xvii] This is not the first time that a complete and total ban on abortion has come up in Poland. In 2011, 2013, and 2015, the Polish Parliament debated and rejected the exact abortion ban advocated for by pro-life foundations.[xviii]

What does this all mean?

Women’s rights are human rights. A woman’s right to choose is just that, a woman’s right to choose. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that “the emphasis must not be on the right to abortion but on the right to privacy and reproductive control.  As many have said over the years, pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion.[xix] This debate is not simply about religion and moral beliefs, this debate boils down to a basic right of choice. Women should be able to have the choice of having or not having an abortion. This is an issue that everyone should be concerned about. Everyone is entitled to live their life as he or she sees fit, and it is not up to the rest of the world to judge them based on the decisions that they make. But it is up to us to treat each and every person with kindness and respect, and to allow women to make decisions for themselves.

Jasmine Pope is a second year law student at the University of Baltimore. She graduated from Towson University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science, with a minor in History. Jasmine is extremely interested in and passionate about international human rights, particular the rights of women and children. She also participated in the Summer Study Abroad Program in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has also studied abroad in Benalmádena, Spain. Currently, she serves as the Secretary for the International Law Society. Jasmine is currently a member of the Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Team. Jasmine is also a Staff Editor for the Journal of International Law and works for the Law Office of Hayley Tamburello.

[i] http://www.repealeight.ie/.

[ii] https://www.ifpa.ie/Hot-Topics/Abortion/Abortion-and-the-Irish-Constitution.

[iii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/after-mass-protests-poland-govt-wont-back-abortion-ban/2016/10/05/6df9449a-8af1-11e6-8cdc-4fbb1973b506_story.html.

[iv] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/after-mass-protests-poland-govt-wont-back-abortion-ban/2016/10/05/6df9449a-8af1-11e6-8cdc-4fbb1973b506_story.html.

[v] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/after-mass-protests-poland-govt-wont-back-abortion-ban/2016/10/05/6df9449a-8af1-11e6-8cdc-4fbb1973b506_story.html.

[vi] http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/poland-abortion-law-1.3789335.

[vii] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, art. 12, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm#article12.

[viii] http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf.

[ix] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/18/why-would-poland-make-its-already-strict-abortion-law-draconian/.

[x] http://www.repeal.ie/, http://www.repealeight.ie/.

[xi] http://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie/repealthe8th/.

[xii] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ireland-abortion-idUSKCN11U0J2.

[xiii] http://www.lifenews.com/2016/07/27/tax-funded-pro-abortion-mural-calling-for-repeal-of-8th-amendment-is-removed/.

[xiv] http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/leading-irish-artists-call-for-repeal-of-8th-amendment-1.2352493.

[xv] http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/leading-irish-artists-call-for-repeal-of-8th-amendment-1.2352493.

[xvi] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/18/why-would-poland-make-its-already-strict-abortion-law-draconian/.

[xvii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/18/why-would-poland-make-its-already-strict-abortion-law-draconian/.

[xviii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/18/why-would-poland-make-its-already-strict-abortion-law-draconian/.

[xix] http://www.pewforum.org/2008/09/30/pro-choice-does-not-mean-pro-abortion-an-argument-for-abortion-rights-featuring-the-rev-carlton-veazey/.

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Pope Francis: The Diplomatic, Modern Catholic Reformer

Suzanne De Deyne

The Catholic Church is a global entity with over a billion members and at the head of the Catholic Church is Pope Francis. The Catholic Church is arguably the world’s oldest diplomatic service and, due to its vast network of humanitarian aid organizations, it has a unique ability to shape foreign policy in a way no other institution can. This blog post seeks to describe how Pope Francis’ mission to change the world and the overall perception of the Catholic Church rises to a level of international significance.


Pope Francis is the sovereign leader of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church (‘Holy See’) is recognized as a Permanent Observer at the United Nations. It does not meet the required elements of statehood but has acquired an international legal personality. The mission of both the UN and the Catholic Church is to assist in the protection and promotion of peace, equality, and human rights.[1] As a Permanent Observer, the Catholic Church has the right to participate in the UN’s General Assembly debates and contribute to proposals, position papers, and draft resolutions and decisions.[2] If the Catholic Church acts as a promoter of peaceful transnational cooperation under the rule of law, there is an argument to be made that the Catholic Church’s input is merely a symbolic gesture that seeks to set an example, even if it is left unnoticed by others (i.e. the P5). This allows the Pope to guide world powers toward a particular vision of justice and peace.[3]

As head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis acts as a moral legislator and an ecclesiastical regulator where his influence extends to all countries. So how much power does Pope Francis have over religious souls? A few decades ago, the Catholic Church mandated a firm commitment to its positions and straying with the Church’s policies meant committing a moral sin, inflicting the fear of hell in its followers. Today, (American) Catholics are more educated and the Church has allowed Catholics to draw independent conclusions. This transition is particularly relevant on a political spectrum. When John F. Kennedy ran for President, Protestant leaders challenged that he would be a tool of the Vatican and concerns about Catholic leaders demanding political loyalty on issues involving church doctrine were widespread.[4] Today, the question is whether Catholic voters and Catholic politicians still give deference to Vatican views when it comes to pronouncements politicians make on key issues?[5]

During a morning homily, Pope Francis stated, “the church asks all of us to change certain things.”[6] Throughout his papacy, he has attacked the narrow-mindedness of the Catholic hierarchy for focusing too much on dogma and “spiritual worldliness,” and too little on ordinary people. Pope Francis frequently speaks deeply in personal terms on topics such as how people are discarded by the global economy, refugees who have drowned at sea, women forced into prostitution, and critiques of environmental destruction.[7] Recently, he publically alluded to a more welcoming attitude toward homosexual by saying, “Who am I to judge?”.[8] Pope Francis has also refuted capitalism as a false ideology that focuses on excess and is inadequate for fully addressing the needs of the poor. For Pope Francis, the answers are found with the Gospel, not with Adam Smith or Karl Marx.[9] Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Monsignor Sánchez Sorondo stated, “the pope, of course, doesn’t have a solution — the economic solution but the pope is like a light on the street to say: ‘This is not the way.”[10]


To be recognized as an exemplary and a transformative leader, one must model the way, encourage the heart, enable others to act, embody a shared vision, and challenge the process and the status quo.[11] Pope Francis has been immensely revolutionary and transformative in all of these regards.[12] He is remaking modern Catholicism by concentrating the church’s core competence on helping the poor, rebranding the church by changing the message communicated by prioritizing deeds over words, and restructuring the church across all levels of influence.[13] Pope Francis’ push to change the Catholic Church has created anxiety and hope. Guzmán Carriquiry Lecour, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and a longtime friend of the pope stated, “He is very critical of ideology because ideologies come from intellectuals and politicians who want to manipulate the hearts of the people. For him, ideologies hide and defame reality.”[14] Yet through gestures and words, Pope Francis has repeatedly challenged elites, both inside the church and out. His humble persona has made him immensely popular and his mission of helping the poor seems to exceed the religious limitations of the Catholic Church – Pope Francis wants to reach the people of the world.

Suzanne De Deyne is a third year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law (candidate for J.D., May 2016) concentrating in International Law. Suzanne graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Economics. She also received a  Honor’s International Relations Certificate from Mount Holyoke College. Currently, Suzanne is the Managing Editor on the Journal of International Law and is President of the International Law Society. As a CICL Fellow, Suzanne has conducted legal research for International Rights Advocates on human rights and corporate accountability. She is also a member of the Women’s Bar Association and Phi Alpha Delta. This past summer Suzanne was a legal intern at Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher in the firm’s Brussels office, which is focused on Competition Law practice in Europe.

[1] Discover the Mission, The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations (2015), http://www.holyseemission.org/contents//mission/discover-the-mission.php

[2] Id.

[3] Edward Pentin, The Pope as Diplomat, Foreign Affairs (Feb. 27, 2013), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2013-02-27/pope-diplomat

[4] Tom Gjelten, Modern Catholics Test the Pope’s Infallible Authority, NPR (Sept. 4, 2015), http://www.npr.org/2015/09/04/437597038/modern-catholics-test-the-popes-infallible-authority

[5] Id.

[6] Jim Yardley, A Humble Pope, Challenging the World, N.Y. Times, Sept. 18, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/19/world/europe/pope-francis.html?_r=1

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Stan Chu Ilo, Pope Francis and the Remaking of Modern Catholicism, Huffington Post (Mar. 12, 2015), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stan-chu-ilo/pope-francis-and-the-remaking-of-modern-catholicism_b_6852468.html

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Supra note 6.