This article was initially titled Repeal the Eighth Amendment in Ireland, but today is the 26th May 2018 and I am pleased to say that Ireland has now voted to repeal the eighth amendment.
Yesterday was a victory, it was a moment in history that Ireland will never forget. Ireland is a deeply religious country, the older generation is vehemently opposed to abortion believing it to be a sin, death and violence. In Ireland, abortion is illegal under all circumstances. Criminal sanctions are placed on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies. Even if a woman is a victim of incest or rape Irish law does not allow for a woman to seek an abortion in these circumstances. It should be noted that just across the pond in the UK, abortion is also illegal. However, the UK does recognise some circumstances under the Abortion Act 1967 in which an abortion may be permitted. Yesterday, polls by the Irish Times and RTÉ suggested about 69% voted to repeal a part of the constitution that effectively bans terminations.
The Eighth Amendment: What is it?
The clause inserted in the Consitution Act 1983, Article 40.3.3º acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
Ireland: Abortion Law
Currently in Ireland, abortion is illegal under all circumstances, so many women travel from Ireland to Wales, England and Scotland to access an abortion. This can be costly and troublesome, particularly if a women doesn’t have the money to pay for travel or an abortion. In 2010, about 12 women a day travelled to England and Wales to terminate their pregnancies.
In Ireland there have many attempts to change the law. Ireland had, however, already recognised the reality that the eighth amendment represented of an absolute bar to lifting the prohibition on abortion, even in cases of rape. The 1992 X case, in which, a 14 -year-old rape victim was denied the right to travel to the UK to terminate her pregnancy led to a ruling by the supreme court which said that where pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life, in the case of X the risk that she would take her own life, abortion should be allowed.
More recently, the case of Savita Halappanavar, a catalyst for the historic vote to repeal the eighth amendment, the case is a tragic reminder of why abortion law needs to change. Halappanavar’s death is devasting, especially, because it could have been prevented. After the family were informed of the risk of infection following the rupture of the foetal membranes, they asked whether it would be possible to medically induce her miscarriage. The family were refused being told that “this is a Catholic country”. As a result Halappanavar spontaneously miscarried and died as a result.
Over the years, public opinion has shifted. Considerably, in the recent referendum, the public voted to repeal the eighth amendment.
How does it affect me if I live outside Ireland?
Whether you live in Ireland or England, or even outside Europe. Abortion law affects everyone, you may had an abortion yourself, your mother, sister or aunt may have had an abortion. It is estimated that 1 in 3 women in the UK have had an abortion. The figure rises in countries where access to contraception is forbidden. For example, in the Phillipines where contraceptive is restricted and abortion is illegal under every circumstance, women have resorted to unsafe practices to terminate their pregnancies. These unsafe practices often result in death or fatal injuries. Whilst the UK may have enabled women to terminate their pregnancies legally under the Abortion Act 1967, prior to its enactment it is estimated that 100,000 women died as a result of unsafe abortions. This is why decriminalising and removing criminal sanctions related to abortion is essential, to reduce the number of maternal mortalities in countries where abortion is illegal. Decrminalising abortion WILL NOT increase the number of abortions, abortions will still be performed but it will just be unsafe and unregulated in backstreet abortion clinics. Decriminalising abortion does not mean that women will have more abortions, if anything it will mean that more womens lives are saved and unsafe pregnancies are terminated.
So what does the repeal mean?
Repealing the eighth amendment does not automatically entitle women to an abortion, instead it allows the government to pave the way to legislate and regulate abortion without women facing criminal sanctions. It will ultimately allow for women to have an abortion without facing criminal charges. The repeal is an important matter and one that desperately required change. Women in this day and age require the repeal so that they are able to access basic health care and so that they can receive the care and support required.
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