Reason 2: A baby’s heart beats just 21 days after conception

In 1983, the people of Ireland did an amazing thing.  They had the foresight and generosity to insert a constitutional provision that acknowledged the right to life of unborn children.

At least one important distinction should be made about this time. When the Eighth Amendment was passed, the people who voted for it didn’t create a right for unborn babies, they merely acknowledged it. No-one can create a right to life, just as no-one can take that right away. The rights of unborn children derive from their own intrinsic worth as unique human beings.

The other thing that was spectacular about the 1983 referendum was the fact that so little was known about the development of the unborn child in the womb at the time.


Back then, there were no 4D ultrasound scans that showed the baby smiling, yawning and moving in the womb.  It was impossible to know what we know today – facts about the baby that make it impossible to deny his or her humanity:

  • Week 4 – facial features start to form.
  • Week 6 – internal organs are formed.
  • Week 8 – Nervous system is responsive.
  • Week 9 – Baby can swallow, yawn and suck
  • Week 11 – Baby stretches and jumps*

The development of the unborn baby

In 1983, the public looked past what science couldn’t yet tell them and instead they focussed on the one thing they knew for sure – that unborn babies are human and deserved the same legal protection as everyone else. They also knew that the proper place for that protection was the document that protects the fundamental rights of every human being in Ireland – our Constitution.

Today, we know so much more about the development of the unborn baby.  Expectant couples can watch their baby’s heartbeat on video – they can even post the video on Facebook!  Given all that knowledge, we must work hard to ensure that the great intentions of the Eighth Amendment are fulfilled so that we always give a voice to the voiceless and continue to promote the protection of these beautiful and vulnerable human beings.


*Gestational milestones from Professor Stuart Campbell, Watch Me Grow!

London: Carroll & Brown Ltd. 2004