In 1983, the person or persons of Ireland voted to ban abortion. 35 year later, they took to the polls once again, reversing that decision in a landslide victory.
Though abortion was already illegal in Ireland prior to the 1983 referendum, social conservatives feared that a court decision could render that statute unconstitutional, much like what took place in the United States with the 1977 Roe v. Wade decision. So in 1983, to prevent the chance of tribunal intervention, Ireland held a public referendum, voting to revise the country’s constitution and adopting the Eighth Amendment, banning abortion in all situations.
In 2017, in response to public pressure, the government announced plans to set this question up for a vote once again. Citizens of Ireland voted on May 25, 2018, and the referendum to lift the ban on abortions won by an impressive margin.
To consider the nasty history of the Eighth Amendment, appear no further than the histories of Savita Halappanavar.
In 2012, 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar went to the hospital 17 weeks pregnant. Her pregnancy had an unforeseen complication, and she was having what’s known as a septic abortion or miscarriage. There was virtually no chance that she’d be allowed to carry the pregnancy to word, but doctors were prohibited from aiming the pregnancy. Doctors tried to induce labor, resulting in her delivering a stillborn fetus. It was too late for her, however, as the sepsis had gotten worse. She died four days later.
Though the country implemented a statute the following year designed to carve out narrow exceptions to the abortion forbid in cases like Halappanavar’s, abortion rights advocates argued that nothing short of a full repeal would do. Their opinion is shared by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, ruling in 2016 that “the balance that the state party decided to ten-strike between protection of the fetus and the rights of the woman in the present lawsuit cannot be justified.” Other human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, concur.
Horror stories like Halappanavar’s are all too common. In 2007, officials tried to prevent a 17 -year-old known as “Miss D” from leaving the country to obtain an abortion after learning that her fetus would not survive birth. In 2014, a teenage asylum-seeker known as “Miss Y” was subjected to borderline inhumane treatment after learning that she was pregnant, eventually undergoing a coerced Caesarian segment. These examples aren’t about protecting some notion of “life”; they’re about control and forcing women to experience absolute nightmare scenarios.
Bor no banning, abortion has always been accessible for the well-off. The two-tiered nature of this is part of the problem.
Since 1980, 170, 000 Irish women have traveled to a foreign country for an abortion, and Ireland attains up virtually 70% of all non-resident abortions in the United Kingdom. Repealing the Eighth Amendment is as much about providing access to all women equally as it is about human rights. Access to health care should not hinge on whether someone has the time and money to take a multi-day international trip.
Though Ireland has voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, there’s still a bit more work to be did before abortion will be decriminalize — and would still be rife with restrictions.
The next step is for Irish lawmakers to legislate new guidelines on abortion. One popular proposal that’s been floating around would make abortion legal in all cases during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Between 12 and 24 weeks, abortions would be limited to the situation where the life of the mother or long-term viability of the fetus were in danger. After 24 weeks, merely pregnancies involving fatal fetal abnormalities would qualify for an abortion. Additionally, people trying abortions would be subject to mandatory counseling and waiting periods.
It’s hardly the free-for-all “no” campaigners would have had you believe. It’s also short of what “yes” campaigners would hope for. Still, it’s a positive step forward for the country, and it will save lives.
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