For a long time, the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution has made it nearly impossible for women seeking abortions to find a safe and legal solution. This will no longer be the case, as the country‘s citizens have voted for its repeal.
The amendment was first added in 1983 and stated that both a fetus and an expecting mother have an equal right to life. This made access to in Ireland extremely restricted, with many women seeking an abortion forced to travel abroad for a procedure. Under the eighth amendment, abortion would be legal only if it were extremely unlikely that the expecting mother would survive the pregnancy.
After the passing of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act of 2013, women who underwent an abortion could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.
On May 25, a nationwide vote was held regarding whether to repeal the eighth amendment. Voters turned up in unprecedented numbers in many of Ireland‘s constituencies. According to the Guardian, once all voting districts had reported their tallies, the final result was 66.4 percent voting yes on repeal, 33.6 percent voting no. The Guardian also reports that out of the 40 districts, only one that had a majority vote no. Today (May 26), the Irish government officially repealed the eighth amendment from the Constitution of Ireland.
Ireland‘s pro-choice movement
This decision has been years in the making, with the right to an abortion being a hotly contested topic in Ireland for decades.
After the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, who died in an Irish hospital from miscarriage complications after being denied a life-saving abortion, a strong surge of pro-choice activism began building in Ireland, with the Abortion Rights Campaign and the #RepealThe8th hashtag both created that same year. The March for Choice became an annual event in Dublin soon after, with reportedly 40,000 participants in last year‘s march. By contrast, a similar march held in March of this year was estimated to only have 15,000 participants.
Feminists and pro-choice activists both in Ireland and around the world are rejoicing at the decision to repeal the eighth amendment. This repeal is expected to provide far greater access to safe and legal abortions for those who need it. Reforms regarding abortion and will soon be on the table for discussion for Irish politicians, but it‘s too early to say what these reforms will entail and under what circumstances a woman will be able to receive an abortion legally. It is also unclear whether the women imprisoned for undergoing an abortion under the eighth amendment will be released and have the conviction removed from their criminal records. This landmark decision could mark a new chapter for in Ireland and bring hope to pro-choice activists around the world.