After a referendum in the Republic of Ireland held last week, the majority voted to abolish the Eighth Amendment, which restricted abortion in the country. Thousands of women used to leave Ireland for Britain to seek abortions and many more ordered illegal pills online. But now, as a result of the referendum, the country is expected to liberalise its abortion laws.
Until recently in the Republic, a woman could undergo an abortion only if her life was at risk, but not in cases of incest or if there were abnormalities in the foetus. The Eighth Amendment came into effect in 1983, which gave an unborn child the same right to life as the pregnant woman. Women could thus not choose to terminate a pregnancy for any reason other than that stated in the law.
The historic vote took place on 25 May across the country. Once the votes were tallied, the numbers were announced at Dublin Castle by Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who stated that 66,4% of voters (and all but one electoral district) chose to remove the Eighth Amendment in favour of a more liberal stance on abortion.
This is a groundbreaking moment for the Republic of Ireland, which has historically been quite conservative, with recognition of same-sex marriage, for instance, only recently being passed into law and divorce being legalised only in 1995. The new laws on abortion will be penned into legislation later this year.
Northern Ireland (across the border from the Republic) has yet to have its ban on abortion lifted. The referendum has no impact on the legislation of this small nation, which is deeply conservative and has a near-complete ban on abortion, permitting the procedure only if the woman’s life is in direct danger. Rape, incest or foetal abnormalities are not permissible reasons for abortion there.