Referendum to be Held on Abortion
By Olivia O’Mahony, Editorial Assistant
October / November 2017
For the first time ever, a referendum will be held on whether Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, which puts women who illegally abort their pregnancies at risk of prison terms up to 14 years, will be lifted or loosened. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced in September that the referendum vote will be held between May and June next year.
The eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, passed by a two-thirds majority in 1983, declares that the life of an unborn child is equal to that of the woman carrying it and effectively bans abortion on Irish soil. This means that Irish women seeking abortions, including cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormality, must travel abroad to safely undergo the procedure, with an estimated average of 12 women a day making the journey to Britain, a fact often cited by “Repeal the 8th” campaigners in their efforts to bring about change.
Ireland’s current abortion laws are considered some of the most conservative in Europe, with the United Nations Human Rights Committee calling last July for the ban to be reversed, and public opinion on abortion is mixed, with most citizens believing in broadening access in some way, though the majority remains against outright legalization.
“Our ideal is that the eighth amendment is completely repealed, and not replaced,” London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign volunteer Claire McGowran told the Independent. “The very minimum is that it’s not confusing any more and gives free, safe abortions to women in Ireland regardless of how they become pregnant.” McGowran added that the group were awaiting an exact date and wording for the referendum question and would soon after commence their year of campaigning. ♦