On the 25th of May, 2018, ferries and planes to the Republic of Ireland from all over the world were flooded with Irish nationals, mostly women, returning for a momentous vote: whether or not to repeal the 8th amendment. The 8th amendment was brought into law in 1983 and was designed to recognise a foetus as a having an equal right to life as the person carrying it. In effect, the amendment, and the previous laws that had not been changed since 1861 made all abortions illegal no matter the circumstances.
No matter the circumstances.
Women who were told their unborn child was dead inside them or would die instantly at birth, had to carry to term without medical intervention. Women who were raped were forced to have children in the midst of their trauma. Women who got pregnant by accident, who got pregnant while in relationships that then dissolved, people who had medical conditions that complicated pregnancy faced up to 14 years in prison if they chose to take abortion pills. Many women were forced to fly over to England for abortions, often alone and in secret. The situation was both ridiculous and heart-breaking.
The vote in 2018 was whether or not to repeal this and allow abortions within the first 12 weeks for any reason and between 12 and 24 weeks for medical reasons. The result, from a 64.13% voter turnout, was 39 constituents out of 40 voting in favour of giving women back control of their bodies. This is not the end of the road. The legislation will take time to draft and enact (though both the health minister and prime minister are keen to get it in place as soon as possible) and these laws are still stricter than in the UK but for it to be voted in with 66.4% majority is a big win for all women (and of course anyone who may get pregnant).
Other countries in Europe, such as Malta, Poland and Cyprus, have banned abortion in all but exceptional circumstances, including danger to the mother and child’s health, rape and incest. Northern Ireland’s hard-line abortion laws aren’t even that flexible and the current leading politicians are resisting any call for a change to what they refer to as ‘abortion on demand.’ But this vote gives us hope; despite leaders’ comments many in Northern Ireland are now hoping for a change to their own laws and one can only imagine this hope spreading, first to other European countries and then to countries worldwide where abortions are illegal and/or unsafe. A win for women anywhere is a win for women everywhere.
Thank you, Ireland. You have done us all proud.