Ireland is a country that I hold quite dear, so I want to tell you a story of its current trials and tribulations.
As far back as 1861, abortion has been formally illegal in Ireland. A predominantly Catholic country, many in Ireland have for a long time held life to be sacred. Moreover it was the case that a majority believed that from the point of fertilisation (when daddy sperm meets mummy egg) life is born, and from that point on has as much right to existence as any fully grown person. Nonetheless, the pro-life lobby is Ireland was in no mood to rest on its laurels.
In 1973, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Ireland heard the case of McGee v Attorney General. This landmark case established the rights of families and marriages to privacy in a broad sense. This came in the same year as the infamous Roe v Wade ruling in the Supreme Court of the United States. In light of these perceived threats to the social agenda, the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC) was established in 1981.
PLAC lobbied the major Irish political parties and by late 1982 the wording was in place for a referendum on the topic of introducing a pro-life amendment to the constitution in order that the life in the womb would be protected in law, given parity with the mother.
On 7th September 1983, Ireland voted 66%-33% in favour of the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth recognises the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child.
Hereafter, a divide became crystallised.
Like all nations, Ireland isn’t a one-way street. Many feel and have felt for a long time that this law represents a gross government overreach into the lives of women. They say that women should have the right to choose their own destiny. They point out the stigma around abortion and the fact that in many cases women are electing to terminate their pregnancies from positions of extreme vulnerability. It’s been seen that rather than deterring Irish women from aborting, it’s resulted in scores heading to England to have their abortions. The Irish Times reported that Irish women represented 68% of non-residents coming to clinics in England and Wales. Thus the case has been made that not only is the Eighth not preventing abortions but that in fact its discriminating against poor Irish women who cannot afford to travel to England.
This school of thought, coupled with the gradual secularisation of Irish society has led to a growing movement to repeal the 8th. These voices are getting louder and louder in Irish society. The Gay Marriage Referendum of 2015, in which the vast majority of Irish voted for gay marriage, seemed to be the start of a sweeping social change that would one day result in a similar change to the constitution in repealing the eighth amendment.
And then, it happened.
The coalition of Finn Gael and Labour, with Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach (PM), announced that a referendum was to be held on May 25th 2018. Furthermore, Varadkar, in a huge move, said that he would be campaigning to repeal. This echoes Obama’s declaration that he had ‘evolved’ on the issue of gay marriage in deciding to back it.
From where I stand, it’s only a matter of time until Ireland falls in line with all other western liberal democracies in introducing safe and regulated abortion options for its citizens. No matter, which way you fall down on the matter on thing is certain, Ireland has changed and it’s not going back.
By Peter Jacobs
Tens of thousands rallied in Dublin in September 2017 for constitutional change