Historic vote in Ireland overturns prohibition on abortion

A new Ireland is triumphant after Friday's vote.

Image Credit: REUTERS

After decades spent campaigning against the prohibition on abortion, Ireland voted on Friday to overturn the law in a historic moment for the nation.

Voters of every age and background in the once deeply Catholic country helped catapult the landslide victory by a margin of two-to-one, Reuters reported. And “Yes” campaigners hailed the historic vote as a victory for women’s rights.

“The biggest change now versus 1983 is the collapse of the Roman Catholic cultural grip across broad swathes of the population,” says Niamh Hardiman, a political scientist at University College-Dublin.

Ireland has prohibited abortion dating back to 1861 when British authorities imposed a ban, which remained in tact even after Ireland gained its independence in the 20th century, Vox reported. In 1983, the ban became the Eighth Amendment to the Ireland’s constitution, which passed by a 67 margin. The amendment stated:

The State acknowledges 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, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

And Ireland remained “locked in to a draconian abortion prohibition” until Friday’s historic vote, Vox reported. But as the Catholic church’s influence stated to wane significantly and women started to gain ground, the liberalization of Ireland began. But the abortion referendum is being called regretful by the Catholic church and “No” campaigners.

“Many will see the results of Friday’s referendum as an indication that the Catholic Church in Ireland is regarded today by many with indifference and as having a marginal role in the formation of Irish culture,” Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, said in a homily published by the Archdiocese of Dublin.

While some 170,000 Irish women traveled abroad to gain access to legal abortions between 1980 and 2016, Vox reported, it was the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 that was “the catalyst for a renewed abortion fight.”

Ireland’s strict prohibition on abortion is to blame for the pregnant woman’s death, according to an official investigation released in 2013. Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was refused a medically induced abortion after her doctors determined she would inevitably have a miscarriage and she ended up dying from sepsis after suffering the miscarriage.

The case made international news and spurred the pro-choice campaign throughout the nation. And Prime Minister Leo Varadkar vowed to “hold a referendum in May on repealing the 8th Amendment,” Vox reported. The promise was kept and the vote is in.

Prime Minister Varadkar will now draft legislation to allow abortions “with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy” before the end of the year, Reuters reported. Lawmakers who voted “no” on the referendum said they have no intentions of blocking the prime minister’s bill.

A new Ireland is triumphant after Friday’s vote.

“Ireland really is, for the most part, a secular state,” Mary McAuliffe, a professor of gender studies at University College-Dublin, said to Vox. “There is a new generation of women – and men – who are very much influenced by ideas of equality, of feminism.”


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Ashley is an editor, social media content manager and writer at NationofChange. Before joining NoC, she was a features reporter at The Daily Breeze – a local newspaper in Southern California – writing a variety of stories on current topics including politics, the economy, human rights, the environment and the arts. Ashley is a transplant from the East Coast calling Los Angeles home.