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The Irish Referendum: A Choice For all Our Choices

Ireland on Friday, 25th May, repealed the eighth constitutional amendment with a landslide two-thirds majority vote, the amendment, since 1983 recognised the rights of both mother and foetus in the same wavelength.
The historic decision came in the heels of a vigorous campaign by Together for Yes, an abortion rights campaign group that were supported by various political parties such as Sinn Fein and left-wing organisations. This campaign gained traction after the tragic death of an Indian-origin nurse Savita Halappanavar in 2012 when she was denied an abortion.

The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar remarked in a public statement that the referendum was the “culmination of a quiet revolution in Ireland.” Simon Harris, the Health Minister addressing the public said, “there is an awful lot of people, particularly a lot of women breathing a sigh of relief today that a stigma has been lifted in this country.” while Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of Sinn Fein hailed the step towards “ a more open, tolerant Ireland”. What was remarkable was that the voting on Friday saw thousands of people returning to the country to cast their votes, an extraordinary display of combined political action. The referendum would now lead to a repeal of the eighth amendment as well as pushing for legislation of legalising abortion upto 12 weeks of pregnancy and setting up of abortion clinics.

 

The History

For decades, since 1987, Ireland’s story of abortion has been a matter of both national and international concern. In 2013, abortion was allowed for the first time in specific cases: when the mother is in danger of suicide or faces health risk due to pregnancy. Yet, it did not allow for abortions in cases of rape, foetal abnormalities, or incest. In 2016, the Citizen’s Assembly, a deliberative body set up to draw up reports on various issues like abortion for the consideration of the Parliament, started a series of meetings where voting on abortion took place. The results were very similar to the recent referendum, wherein the majority voted in favour of repeal of the abortion laws.

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Image Credits: Irish Examiner

 

Across the Irish Sea

According to reports, 170,000 women have travelled abroad for abortion, a number which pro-choice activists say reflects how the country is denying the presence of a social reality. Their destination would mostly be nearby England where abortion is legal in most cases. Moreover women of lower income households are restricted from access to such journeys, and hence from safe abortions.

The only place in Britain where abortion laws are as highly restrictive is Northern Ireland where women have no access to free abortions unlike the rest of Britain. Northern Ireland is also the only part of United Kingdom (UK) to still consider same-sex marriage illegal. The recent referendum pushes such issues of the region into the international limelight with pro-choice activists already clamouring for greater change.

 

Decline in Religious Conservatism

The landslide majority at the referendum as well opinion polls over the years have revealed how Ireland has changed from being one of the most conservative Catholic European nations. This has accompanied the recent child-sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Irish Catholic churches.

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Image Credits: The Irish Times

 

Abortion Laws Around the World

India permits abortions till 20 weeks of pregnancy (24 weeks in cases of rapes) when there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or the possibility of mental or physical abnormalities arising in the offspring. Yet, it is only in 60 countries in the world that women have access to safe abortions. Most countries in Europe like Malta, Poland, San Marino, Andorra, El Salvador, Nicaragua have highly restrictive abortion laws. Some of them prohibit abortion in all cases even when there is a risk to the lives of women. Most of these nations have a Christian majority population. In the United States of America too, the presence of a federal system means that abortion laws are not uniformly implemented. Trigger laws render the access to safe abortions almost impractical.

 

Pro-choice or Pro-life

The entire debate regarding pro-choice and pro-life has centred around religious conservatism as well as a concern for the health of women who undergo abortion. However, the rights of foetuses cannot be seen to be independent of that of the mothers as most abortions take place in the first trimester, when the baby cannot exist independent of the mother’s body. Most abortions also require very simple procedures like ingesting pills and do not pose any serious threat to the lives of the mothers. Moreover, in cases of rape or crisis pregnancies, it seems illogical to condemn a woman to pregnancy, especially in cases of minors. States which do so, operate on a slippery slope and might soon initiate more draconian measures. Most importantly, with waves of feminism taking over modern discourse, it becomes important to remember that a woman’s body autonomy should be preserved at all costs, perhaps even at the sake of the unborn child.
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Image Credits:  The Irish Times

 

Feature Image Credits: 4Conservative.com

Sara Sohail

sara.jagiroad@gmail.com




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