Ireland has firmly pulled itself into the 21st century by voting overwhelmingly (66.4% vs 33.6%) to repeal the constitutional block on abortions.
What was the legal provision put to vote?
In a referendum, the Irish voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment that practically prohibits abortions. The amendment, introduced in 1983 to strengthen an older law outlawing abortion, grants an unborn child and the woman carrying it an equal right to life. Consequently, abortions in Ireland have been only permitted when the life of the woman is at risk, including from suicide.
The case of Savita Halappanavar
This exception too was introduced as late as 2013, after 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, a dentist from Karnataka, died of sepsis in a hospital after being denied an abortion while miscarrying at 17 weeks. The couple made multiple requests for a termination but were told it was not possible because Ireland was a Catholic country, her husband said during the inquest that followed. The inquest ruled that Halappanavar had died as a result of a medical misadventure and her case helped galvanise the pro-repeal movement. Images of Halappanavar with a beaming smile could be seen on walls and placards in the run-up to Friday’s vote.
Other legal provisions related to abortion
Those luckier than her are able to travel abroad for abortions; amendments to the law permit travel for such purposes as well as information on abortion processes available overseas.
Alarmingly, there were still no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or when the foetus had a fatal abnormality. In 2016 the United Nations asked Ireland to relax its laws around abortion after a woman’s highly publicised experience of trauma travelling to England to terminate her pregnancy because of fatal foetal abnormalities.
What the Irish government plans to do?
The Irish government has indicated that it will now pass laws giving women the right to terminate pregnancies up to 12 weeks. Abortions will be permitted between 12 and 24 weeks when there are fatal foetal abnormalities or risk to the life of the mother or serious harm to her. Beyond 24 weeks, abortions would be permitted when there are fatal abnormalities.
What is the situation in Ireland?
Ireland has been fiercely divided over abortion despite making progress to separate Church and State and adopting more open social attitudes. It legalised same-sex marriage in 2015 and elected the first openly gay Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, last year. Mr. Varadkar has been in favour of the repeal, describing it as a ‘quiet revolution’. The timing of the decision is especially significant given that the democratic world has made a noticeable shift to the right, exemplified by Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., and right-wing populism in continental Europe. Religion is a powerful force in people’s lives but antediluvian ideas have no place in modern-day governance. The referendum is a giant step in the right direction.
(Adapted from the Hindu)