This morning, 25th of May, ballots in Ireland finally opened, giving the country a chance to change its controversial abortion laws once and for all.
Ireland’s legislation on termination of pregnancies have been defined as some of the strictest in the developed world. These are ruled by the Eight Amendment, which has effectively been prohibiting abortions in all cases since 1983, although abortion has been illegal since 1861. Over the years, these laws have been slightly loosened, for instance allowing people to go abroad to have abortions or for pregnancies to be terminated if the mother’s life was at risk for pregnancy complications or suicide. Sadly, these changes were forced through by scandals and deaths and the international indignation they cretaed. In 1992, the “Case X” saw a 14-year-old girl having to fly to Britain to get an abortion as a result of rape, and triggered the first change. In 2012, 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar died in a Galway hospital after being denied an abortion during a miscarriage because of Ireland being “a Catholic country”. While Ireland is, indeed, mostly Catholic, it is also important to remember it is part of the European Union; where 25 out of the 28 member states legalized abortions.
Savita’s case and a lot of other episodes triggered a series of local protests, which, mixed with international pressure from the UN’s Human Rights Council, have pushed through the referendum.
If “Yes” wins, the legislation will allow free abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to 24 weeks in the case of a threat to the mother’s health.
We need the country to be realistic, compassionate, and we just need the change to happen.
These are the words of Aoife Cooke, a community health worker that flew to Ireland all the way from Australia to campaign for more progressive abortion policies.
I hope that a Yes vote will help to lift that stigma and help to take away that legacy of shame that exists in our society
There were, additionally, 65.000 extra registrations to vote compared to the same-sex marriage referendum which was successful in 2015. These figures make it seem as if the country is ready to leave its strict abortion laws in the past, also considering that the polls predict “yes” as being ahead. However, in the latter, 24% of the voters were undecided.
Undoubtedly, if the referendum is successful, Ireland will be changed for ever. It is, therefore, a great chance to make a positive change and fight for fair and equal rights for women.
Photo: Philip Walsh