Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has announced that Ireland will hold a referendum in 2018 to decide on whether to repeal the 8th amendment and permit abortion. Currently, the 8th amendment in the Irish constitution gives a foetus equal status to its mother. Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless the life of the mother is at risk (including from suicide), but Irish women are still getting abortions – just not from the state.
The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) estimates that at least 170,216 Irish women and girls from 1980-2016 have travelled to access abortion services. In 2016 alone, 3,265 women did so, which works out at an average of almost 9 women a day .These figures do not include those who order pills online, which ROSA (for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity) estimates to be 3 women a day .
Pro-choice campaigners have been working for years to change the law that forces these women to travel or illegally order pills to have an abortion, arguing that Irish women have the right to receive a free, safe, and legal abortion in their own country. The UN human rights committee has repeatedly stated that Irish abortion law needs to be reformed.
Pro-life campaigners hope to retain the current abortion legislation, arguing in favour of the foetus and mother having equal right.. Tim Jackson, former political candidate for Donegal, recently did a hunger strike to demand that Leo Varadkar and members of the Oireachtas committee watch a video on abortion. At the beginning he stated he wouldn’t give up until the point of death, but stopped after 10 days. The pro-life movement is strong in Ireland and is guaranteed to campaign hard to keep the 8th amendment.
The exact date of the referendum is yet to be confirmed, as is the exact question that will be posed to the Irish people. The wording of this question will be crucial, as previous polls have shown differing degrees of support for new abortion legislation, depending on the questions being asked. According to an Irish Times poll, 82% of those surveyed support abortions in cases of serious risk to the physical health of the women, whereas only 23% support abortion under any circumstances (abortion on demand).
This is likely to be a much tougher debate in comparison to Ireland’s last referendum, which legalised same sex marriage.
[Rose Jackson – @ginger_git]
[Photo credit – Aike Jansen]