About 3,500 Irish women travel to the UK each year seeking out safe and legal abortion. These women incure large costs, face logistical difficulties and undergo extreme emotional strain. Another estimated 2,000 women a year end pregnancies by taking the illegal abortion pill without medical supervision. In less than two months Ireland will hold an historic referendum on repealing the eighth amendment – the law prohibiting abortion in almost all circumstances. The amendment to the Republic’s constitution, introduced in 1983, “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn.”
The Republic of Ireland currently has a near total ban on abortion. Terminations are not permitted even in extreme cases, although the law has taken heavy beatings in recent years from pro-choice activists. A campaign to liberalise abortion gathered momentum in 2012, when Savita Halappanavar died in a Galway hospital after doctors refused to perform an abortion that would “no doubt” have kept Savita alive.
There have been significant social and demograhic changes in Irish society over the past 35 years. The influence of the Catholic Church (a driving force behind the eighth amendment passing), has lessened. Between 1972 and 2011, weekly church attendance fell from 91 per cent to 14 per cent in Dublin.
Also, three years ago, Ireland became the first country in the world to back same-sex marriage in a referendum, against the pressure from the Catholic Church. This vote had a powerful effect; people realised that change is possible.
When is the referendum?
The government has announced it will hold a referendum on May 25, following the passing of the bill to hold the referendum in the Seanad (Irish Senate).
Ireland’s Union of Students argued the referendum should take place ahead of exams and student holidays, which would have lead to a drop in youth vote.
The union announced in a statement: “Millions of our young people have not had the opportunity to vote on this issue, and arguably it affects our future generations more than any others.”
How have the Catholic Church reacted to the announcement?
The Church opposes abortion in all circumstances.
The Irish Times reports that Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin states: “Regarding medical intervention, Catholic teaching is clear: where a seriously-ill pregnant woman requires medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort is made to save both the mother and her baby.”
What is the expected outcome?
In January, a poll found 56 per cent would vote in favour of repealing the eighth amendment, with 29 per cent against and 15 per cent undecided or unwilling to say. Amid those aged 18 to 24, support for change was at 74 per cent, contrasting with 36 percent among over-65s.
It is important to remember that those voting would likely have been through an education system run by the church, teaching that abortion is murder.
There is a clear moral dilemma surrounding the legislation that is likely to follow the repeal – it’s expected that the governemt will introduce legislation permitting unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
If we, as women, don’t have the influence and right to make decisions regarding our own lives, we don’t have equality.