Ireland Repeals Anti-Abortion Amendment in Landmark Vote for Reproductive Justice

Arturo Kim
May 28, 2018

"Yes" voters want to repeal the eighth amendment, which was voted into the constitution through a public referendum in 1983 and bans almost all abortion.

Irish Catholics attending Sunday Mass were disappointed with the result of a referendum in which voters opted to legalise abortion and think it reflects the weakening of the church - a situation that was unthinkable in Ireland a generation ago. Several voters supported the change by two-to-one, a margin considered far higher than any opinion poll in the run up to the vote had predicted, in the once deeply Catholic nation.

Ireland's push to liberalise its laws is in contrast to another traditionally Catholic European country, Poland, where the ruling conservative party and still powerful church are seeking to ban most abortions.

For decades, the law forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations and "Yes" campaigners argued that with others now ordering pills illegally online, abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

Ireland's parliament will be charged with coming up with new abortion laws in the coming months.

Leo Varadkar, the Prime Minister (or Taoiseach as it's called in Ireland) said in a press conference,"Today is a historic day for Ireland". Saturday's vote inserts a clause into the constitution which now allows legislators to put forward new laws on abortion.

The vote removes a 1983 amendment that required Irish authorities to defend the lives of a woman and a foetus equally on nearly all abortions.

"In Northern Ireland, we don't have a voice", said Sarah, 26, who also did not give her surname.

Moderator Dr Noble McNeely, former Moderator Dr Trevor Morrow, and Clerk of the General Assembly Rev Trevor Gribben called on the Irish government and politicians in the Republic to keep their promise to make abortion "rare", and to ensure that the unborn with disabilities like Down's Syndrome will not have their lives terminated.

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Before this, under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, abortion had been prohibited in Ireland which stayed even after independence in 1922, which said, "procuring a miscarriage was a criminal offence subject to the penal servitude for life".

The vote leaves many across the country and the world wondering what comes next, and what this means on a practical level for the Irish people. It would also likely end the need for thousands of Irish women to travel overseas - mostly to neighboring Britain - for abortions they can't get at home.

Together For Yes, an umbrella group representing pro-repeal organisations, said at a news conference in Dublin that it would support naming the new law after Savita.

Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said he believed a middle ground of around 40 percent of voters had decided en masse to allow women and doctors rather than lawmakers and lawyers to decide whether a termination was justified.

Official counting for Friday's referendum on whether or not to liberalize Ireland's abortion laws was still under way, and final results are not expected until Saturday afternoon.

Since 2013, abortions have been allowed in Ireland only in cases of life-threatening conditions.

"The public have spoken, the result appears to be resounding in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment, possibly to carry every constituency in the country", Varadkar said on Saturday.

Ms McMahon said it was hugely important that Irish women needing an abortion would now be able to get safe medical care without having to leave the country.

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