Ireland has legalised abortion by repealing the Eighth Amendment to its constitution. Turnout was strong, with about 60% of the electorate casting a vote after a long and hard-fought campaign on both sides.
According to exit polls, women were strongly in favour of repeal, with 70% in favour, and 30% against. About 65% of men voted in favour of repeal. The highest Yes vote was in the capital, Dublin, where some 77% voted to repeal.
Although supporters of a No vote hoped that rural voters would back their campaign, it appears that 60% of them voted to repeal.
The Eighth Amendment, passed in a 1983 referendum, gave the unborn an equal right to life as the mother and therefore prohibited nearly all abortions unless a mother’s life was at risk. As a sign of how much traditionally Catholic Ireland has changed, the 1983 referendum passed by nearly the same margin – 67% to 33%.
The government will now draft legislation, which will probably allow for abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. A woman seeking an abortion from a doctor will would have to wait for three days after a consultation. If she wanted to continue, she would be able to take an abortion pill.
However, if there were a serious risk to the health of the mother, an abortion could be carried out up to 24 weeks, the supposed limit for viability of the unborn child. And if a lethal foetal abnormality were detected, an abortion could be carried out at any time.
Health Minister Simon Harris declared earlier in the year that conscientious objectors would be respected, but it is not clear whether doctors who refuse to carry out an abortion would be expected to refer a patient to a more compliant colleague.
Sunday, May 27, 2018
Ireland, which was once Europe’s most socially conservative nation, has voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its constitution in order to permit abortion. The vote was roughly 2 to 1 in favour of change, with nearly the whole country supporting it. Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar reassured No voters. “Ireland will still be the same country today as it was before, just a little more tolerant, open and respectful.”
The legalisation of abortion comes hard on the heels of the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2015. Together they suggest that Ireland is not the same country, at least not compared to 1983, when the Eighth Amendment was passed by a 2 to 1 margin. It is obvious that the country has “changed, changed utterly” in a single generation – although people will differ on whether this signals a “terrible beauty” or a terrible shame.
What is responsible for the turnabout? The decline in the prestige and power of the Catholic Church, which once was synonymous with Irish culture, surely has something to do with it. But there must be other reasons as well, as Ireland is simply treading the well-worn path towards secularisation which has swept across Western Europe. It’s worthwhile trying to understand the dynamics of the change, as the rise of bioethics itself is part of that secularisation. Otherwise we – Ireland and the rest of us – will fail to understand ourselves.
One example of the narrative which is being used to explain the referendum result is the image of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian migrant who died after asking for an abortion in 2012. It was used to show what happens to women who are denied their reproductive rights. However, abortion had nothing to do with her tragic death, a government investigation concluded in 2014. Instead, it was a perfect storm of medical negligence.
“We have voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink," says Mr Varadkar about the referendum result. If he meant by these self-congratulatory words that Ireland is no longer living in a world of delusion and lies, he has obviously spoken too soon.
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