On Friday 25 May, the Ireland abortion referendum saw a vote to overturn a thirty-fire year old near-total ban on abortion by a margin of 66.4% to 33.6%. Referendum returning officer Barry Ryan said that more than 700,000 people voted ‘Yes’ to repealing the law.

After a long battle between pro-life activists and ‘Yes’ campaigners, the public’s decision produced consensus for change across most counties in Ireland. In parts of Dublin, almost 80% of people were for new abortion laws.

Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar, who campaigned actively for the yes vote, said: “We have seen the culmination of a quiet revolution that’s been taking place in Ireland over 20 years.”

Thousands of Irish women living abroad travelled back to the Republic to vote. The hashtag #HomeToVote became very popular on Twitter and spread many personal stories about women forced to travel abroad or buy illegal pills to abort.

The Taoiseach insisted on the unity that the referendum had the potential to produce. “In 1983, 841,000 people voted to insert the Eighth amendment into our constitution. In 2018, almost every county, every constituency, men and women, all social classes, almost all age groups. We are not a divided country. The result is resounding.”

What is the current situation in Ireland?

The referendum took action to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which is considered one of the most restrictive laws in Europe [BY WHO?]. It recognises an equal right to life for a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

The constitution, in conjunction with The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013, only allows abortion if the woman’s life is at risk during her pregnancy. Rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not taken into account for legal procedures.

However, the clause has also led to a series of tragic cases, such as the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012. After suffering a miscarriage in 2012, Dr Halappanavar had been refused an abortion at Galway University Hospital until the foetus’ heart had stopped beating due to it’s illegality. She waited days until the heartbeat stopped, by which time she had been suffered an infection and died of septicaemia the next day. 

Ireland Abortion referendum
The death of Savita Halappanavar caused huge protests. Photo credit: Night Owl/Wikipedia Commons

The movement was also given momentum by the case of Amanda Mellet, who had to travel to travel to England to abort due to a fatal foetal anomaly. She took the case to the UN Human Rights Committee which concluded that the trauma caused by the ordeal was a breach of women’s human rights. She was subsequently given compensation by the Irish government.

The overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote paves the way for the government to legislate for abortion; the campaign’s supports also argue that women will now be provided with better reproductive healthcare.

What about the “No” voters ?

The only county in Ireland to return a “no” vote was Donegal, with 52% of the electorate disagreeing with the proposition. Even in this case, the margin was slim, with just 2,000 votes swinging Donegal the way of the Pro Life campaign.

With the rest of the country having turned decidedly against them, the Pro Life campaign has nevertheless vowed to fight on. The Communications Director of Save Lives, Save the 8thJon McGuirk, underlined the rights of the unborn child to live in a statement: “The unborn child no longer has a right to life recognised by the Irish state. Shortly, legislation will be introduced that will allow babies to be killed in our country. We will oppose that legislation.”

He added that he will also oppose the opening of abortion clinics: “Every time an unborn child has his or her life ended in Ireland, we will oppose that, and make our voices known.”

What next?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he hopes to pass the new legislation within six months: “The fact that the result is so clear, that it is more than 2:1 in favour, will make it much easier to get the legislation through the Dáil.” The current law, The Protection During Pregnancy Act 2013, remains in place until it is passed.

The proposed legislation in Ireland will be in line with most European countries’ abortion laws, which means that they will be allowed on request within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

After 12 weeks of pregnancy, abortions will be legal under certain circumstances such as  risk to the mother’s life. Beyond 24 weeks, terminations will not be carried out.

Laws regarding abortion still have to be approved and discussed within the parliament.


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