Monday, 22 October, 2018

Campaigners celebrate as Ireland votes to scrap abortion laws

Quiet revolution’ Ireland votes to legalize abortion Pro-Choice supporters celebrate at Dublin Castle Ireland. Reuters
Leonard Rios | 28 May, 2018, 17:15

A traditionally Catholic country, Ireland voted by a landslide to ditch its strict abortion laws in a referendum that Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said lifted decades of stigma and shame.

On Friday, the nation's 3.4 million voters were asked via referendum whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment of its constitution, which protects the right to life for the unborn - meaning an abortion can only be carried out if the mother's life is at risk.

Ireland voted by a roughly two-to-one margin Friday to end a constitutional ban on abortion, and parliament is expected to approve a more liberal set of laws governing the termination of pregnancies.

Anti-abortion groups in Ireland vowed to continue their fight to protect existing abortion laws and the rights of the unborn child despite an apparent referendum setback. Varadkar wants to remove the current language on abortion, paving the way for terminations up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy and only in very limited circumstances - such as a fatal abnormality - after that.

A spokeswoman for May said on Sunday changing the rules should only be undertaken by a government in Northern Ireland, which has been without a devolved executive since January a year ago after a power-sharing agreement collapsed.

Now, nearly six years on from her unexpected death, voters have agreed to remove the Republic of Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion and there have been calls to name the new legislation Savita's Law. The referendum states that abortions should only be performed when the mother's life is in immediate danger, as fetuses have an "equal" right to life.

The campaign was defined by women publicly sharing their painful experiences of going overseas for procedures, a key reason why all but one of Ireland's 40 constituencies voted "Yes". Many traveled overseas to undergo the procedure, and others bought pills online.

The vote is a "rejection of an Ireland that treated women as second-class citizens", she said, adding: "This is about women's equality and this day brings massive change, monumental change for women in Ireland, and there is no going back".

Mural of Savita Halappanavar in Dublin Ireland
Mural of Savita Halappanavar in Dublin Ireland

Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt - who is responsible for the women and equalities brief in government - said the referendum signalled a "historic and great day for Ireland" and a "hopeful one for Northern Ireland".

People are calling for a permanent mural tribute to Savita Halappanavar following Saturday's news that Ireland had voted in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. Many Irish voters returned home to cast their votes, captured in the hashtag #HomeToVote.

Reform in Ireland also raised the prospect that women in Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal, may start travelling south of the border.

The message concludes, by saying: "After this vote we need to remember Savita, and allow Irish people a place to go to pay their respects to her and her family". "No woman in the United Kingdom should be denied access to a safe, legal abortion", said Dawn Butler, Labour's shadow minister for women and equalities.

He said the result means that "we are living in a new time and a changed culture for Ireland".

Together For Yes, an umbrella group representing pro-repeal organisations, said at a news conference in Dublin that it would support naming the new law after Savita.

1,429,981 people voted to repeal the amendment.

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