Abortion In Ireland: A Referendum Has Been Announced For 2018
The Debrief: Whether legislative change actually takes place will depend on the outcome of the referendum but there is no doubt that this is a landmark announcement
The Irish government has just announced that it will hold a referendum on unrestricting access to abortion in 2018. According to Prime Minister Leo Vardakar, this vote will take place in May or June. It comes after the Citizen’s Assembly, a public forum which advises the Irish Government, voted in 87% in favour of changing abortion laws in the country in April of this year.
Ireland has faced much criticism because of their pernicious and restrictive abortion law. Earlier this year the UN’s Human Rights Committee called on the Irish government to reform its legislation, after ruling that it subjected a woman to 'cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and violated her human rights'.
WATCH NOW: Choosing Change, Meet The Women Fighting For Abortion Rights In Northern Ireland
Of course, whether legislative change actually takes place will depend on the outcome of the referendum but there is no doubt that this is a landmark announcement which marks a major change in Ireland's government's attitudes to women's rights, it signals that women's bodies may no longer be subjugated and subjected to political point scoring.
The majority of polls show that public opinion in the country is in favour of legalising abortion but that people remain cautious about the circumstances under which it should be allowed.
The referendum question to be put to the public has not yet been announced, so the scope of the vote is not yet known. We don't know if this will be a vote on the complete legalisation of abortion in Ireland or whether it will only be under certain circumstances and, if so, which circumstances.
As things stand, the abortion laws in Ireland are some of the most restrictive in the world, in line with countries like El Salvador. A woman who orders abortion pills online, and anyone found to have assisted her, can face up to life imprisonment.
Today's announcement comes after years of campaigning from the Repeal the 8th campaign as well as joined up campaigns with Nothern Ireland as part of the Alliance For Choice. In Ireland campaigns, have focused on allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality at a minimum. A case that stuck in the minds of many was that of 31-year-old dentist Savita Halappanavar who died on 28 October 2012 at the University Hospital in Galway, Ireland, as a result of complications of a septic miscarriage at 17 weeks after being denied an abortion by her doctor. Her tragic story and preventable death was heavily publicised, but it speaks to the reality faced by women across the country.
While women have been able to access free, safe and legal abortions in England, Wales and Scotland since the 1967 Abortion Act, our neighbours in Ireland and Northern Ireland do not have the same right.
This is because Ireland is subject to different laws to us. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which came into force in 1983 after a referendum at a time when contraception was also illegal, gives explicit recognition of the right to life of an unborn child and effectively serves as a constitutional ban on abortion throughout the country. In Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, the 1967 Act does not apply. Instead, women in Northern are subject to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act and the Criminal Justice Act of 1945. In Northern Ireland abortions are permitted in very limited circumstances and since 2014 in Ireland, a pregnancy can be terminated under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, only if there is a risk to the woman’s life, including suicide.
You might also be interested in:
Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating