On the 25th of May 2018, Ireland will vote on whether to maintain or repeal its current abortion laws. Either way, the result will illustrate the way Ireland views women’s reproductive rights.
Ireland is certainly going through an era of great social change. In 2015, the once staunchly Catholic Ireland became the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote. Today, voters will be asked if they wish to maintain or repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution and allow parliament to set the abortion laws instead.
What’s the 8th Amendment?
It’s important to note that abortion was already subject to prosecution in Ireland before the introduction of the 8th amendment; it has been considered a criminal act since the 1800s. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1983 added a new sub-section, which reads:
“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”
This effectively means that the only reason a woman in Ireland may abort her pregnancy is if her life is in immediate peril. If a woman who was pregnant as a result of rape or incest terminated her pregnancy in Ireland (and the pregnancy itself was deemed as not life-threatening ) – she could be imprisoned for up to 14 years. The same goes for a woman pregnant with a foetus that is unlikely to survive to full term – she must continue the pregnancy regardless.
The Real-Life Impact of the 8th Amendment
In 2007, a teenager known only as Miss D discovered that her unborn baby had anencephaly – a fatal condition which means an embryo will develop without a major portion of the brain and skull. The Irish Health Service Executive refused to allow Miss D to travel to Britain for an abortion. Her case had to go to the High Court before she was finally allowed autonomy over her own body.
A 31-year-old dentist, Savita Halappanavar died in Ireland in 2012 after she was refused an abortion whilst miscarrying. She died of septic shock; a preventable death.
Protesters taking to the streets after the death of Savita (Wikimedia Commons)
Eva O Connor’s spoken word articulates the reality of today’s Irish woman in need of an abortion – essentially fleeing her country on a budget flight to Britain to access the healthcare she needs without fear of prosecution.
Hashtag #HomeToVote is a call to all Irish citizens living abroad. Any Irish citizen living abroad, who had lived in Ireland during the past 18 months, is eligible to vote in the referendum, but they must return to Ireland to do so (https://hometovote.com/)
I spoke to an Irish friend of mine who has been very vocal on social media in the lead up to the referendum. I asked her what the current abortion law meant to her and her friends, and what either a yes or a no result would mean. This is what she told me:
“Hitherto the 8th Amendment has taken away women’s right to bodily autonomy in Ireland. Your basic human rights, as a woman in Ireland, are completely compromised. For last 5 years myself and my friends have been marching in Ireland to Repeal the 8th amendment. We are demanding change.
A yes result means a better and fairer Ireland. An Ireland where women can access proper healthcare without fear and shame. Without fear of the law and without fear of death.
A no is basically a death sentence, in my eyes, for Irish women in the future. Women have died because of this legislation, because they have been denied and continue to be denied the right to abortion under the 8th amendment. I actually have members of my extended family voting no and it is causing a lot of anger and frustration in me. It physically hurts knowing that more women will suffer unnecessarily if the No voters get their way.
The bottom line for me is – This is a human rights issue and you don’t have to be “Pro-Abortion” to vote yes!”