Irish voters on Friday overwhelmingly voted to repeal what had been one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the world.
Over 66% voted to overturn the Eighth Amendment, which banned abortion in nearly all cases (including rape, incest, and crisis pregnancies). The law also carried a prison sentence of up to 14 years for women who sought illegal procedures inside the country.
“The people have spoken,” said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a medical doctor who supported the repeal. “The people have said that we want a modern constitution for a modern country, that we must trust women and respect them to make the right decision and the right choices about their healthcare.”
Those who supported the repeal cited the case of Savita Halappanavar – a dentist who in 2012 was denied an abortion even though her life was at risk. She died of septicemia caused by a miscarriage.
“Over the last 20-30 years, the idea of Ireland as a Catholic country has been changing,” said gender studies expert Mary McAuliffe. “We’re no longer an isolated country on the edge of Europe hidebound by outdated ideas about morality, femininity, and controlling women’s bodies.”
Irish lawmakers are currently working to pass legislation that would allow abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The new law is expected to include a provision which allows abortions at up to 24 weeks in cases where the mother’s health is at risk.
The new abortion policy is in line with other changes, such as Ireland’s 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage, which represent a societal shift away from the Catholic Church.
“Once you introduce legalized abortion it changes the entire dynamic of society,” complains John Aidan Byrne, 58. “And it divides politically, socially, and – let’s be frank – spiritually.”
While supporters of the repeal claim Friday’s vote puts Ireland “in line” with practices in the US and Europe, this is not necessarily the case.
Ireland’s vote comes “at a time when right-wing populism is on the rise in Europe and the Trump Administration is imposing curbs on abortion rights in the United States,” notes The Irish Times.
Just this month, the state of Iowa passed its “heartbeat bill” abortion ban and the Trump Administration said it would consider restoring an old rule that would block Planned Parenthood and other clinics from receiving Title X funds if they speak about or are attached to abortion providers.
There are now only three countries in Europe where abortion is illegal unless the mother’s life is at risk: San Marino, Andorra, and Malta. There are only four countries in the entire world where abortion is illegal even in cases where the mother’s life is at risk: El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Vatican City.