Irish voters approve liberalizing abortion by two-thirds

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Irish voters have voted to repeal their country’s constitutional ban on abortion in almost all circumstances.

The Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to overturn the ban by 66.4 percent to 33.6 percent.

Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to change the law, said on Saturday May 26 that the vote represented “a quiet revolution” in the typically conservative country.

A turnout of just over 64 percent was one of the highest for an Irish referendum.

The result means that article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland – the so-called Eighth Amendment – will be repealed, paving the way for abortion laws closer in line with most of Europe.

A 1983 referendum constitutionalised Ireland’s abortion regime, currently one of the strictest in the world. The eighth amendment puts the “right to life of the unborn” on an equal status with the life of a pregnant woman. Changes to the Irish constitution must be approved by voters.

Since two further 1992 referendums, Irish women have legally been allowed to travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies, and can seek information about overseas abortion services.

The Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, backed the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment. His government plans (The Journal) to introduce legislation allowing unrestricted abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to 23 weeks when a woman’s health is threatened or the foetus has a fatal abnormality.

Doreen Manning, from Cork, voted Yes.

“I’ve seen countless friends and family members agonise and worry over their own pregnancies and reproductive healthcare,” she said. “It shouldn’t be this way anymore; it never should have been this way to begin with.”

The declining dominance of the Catholic church, especially among the young, has been seen (The Atlantic) as key to the success of the #RepealTheEighth campaign. A series of child abuse scandals have shaken trust in the institution, traditionally viewed as highly influential.

The church’s vocal support was instrumental (The Atlantic) in passing the Eighth Amendment 35 years ago, but its power has waned in recent years. Voters have approved a series of socially liberal reforms which challenge the traditional teachings of the church, including the legalization of divorce in 1995 and gay marriage 20 years after that, in a string of referendums.

Before the referendum, the Association of Catholic Priests issued a statement declaring its relative passivity, saying (BBC): “As leadership of an organisation made up of men who are unmarried and without children of our own, we are not best placed to be dogmatic on this issue.”

Orlagh Thiriet, an investment banker, welcomed the result of Friday’s vote, telling WikiTribune: “Jesus can stay out of my body’s business, thanks.”

An exception permitting abortion when pregnancy threatens a woman’s life was legislated for in 2013, following the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar. Halappanavar had been denied an abortion and died from septicaemia after suffering a miscarriage, in a case which shocked the nation.

Seeking or providing an abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison (Washington Post). It is estimated (Irish Times) that around 3,500 Irish women travel abroad annually seeking to terminate their pregnancies. A further 2,000 purchase (The Guardian) abortion pills online every year in breach of the law.

The #HomeToVote movement (see WikiTribune report) which saw thousands of Irish citizens living abroad return to Ireland to vote in the referendum, was noted by some as a mirror image of the thousands of “silent, secret journeys” undertaken by Irish women seeking to terminate their pregnancies every year, mostly to the UK.

Manning will be celebrating the result. “It never should have been this way to begin with.”

A contributor to The Irish Times live results blog wrote: “Today I am crying with tears of pride and joy in my country for choosing compassion, deserved healthcare and a recognising woman’s right to choice.”

But one No supporter tweeted: “may god have mercy on us for our vote.”

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