Ireland to hold abortion referendum in 2018

Country has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe

Rachael Revesz
Tuesday 26 September 2017 17:00 BST
Ireland to hold abortion referendum in 2018

Ireland is to hold a referendum on abortion in 2018, it has been announced.

A decision on the eighth amendment, which gives equal right to life to the unborn, will take place in May or June next year, according to Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s government.

The public will then decide if abortion should be legalised “in almost all cases”.

The move comes after a long fight by campaigners to “repeal the 8th”, which caught international attention. It also comes before the sixth annual March for Choice demonstrations in Dublin and London on Saturday.

Claire McGowran, a volunteer with London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, told The Independent that they were waiting for an exact date and the wording of the referendum question and were ready to start a year of campaigning.

"Our ideal is that the eighth amendment is completely repealed, and not replaced," she said. "The very minimum is that it's not confusing anymore and gives free, safe abortions to women in Ireland regardless of how they became pregnant."

The United Nations Human Rights Committee called last July for the country’s abortion bans to be reversed.

Abortion Rights Campaign wrote on its website to advertise the march on Saturday: “This year we have learned of young children sectioned under the Mental Health Act for seeking abortions, of suicidal women denied access to the abortion they’re entitled to under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act because their doctor doesn’t think they’re ‘suicidal enough’.

“Meanwhile in Northern Ireland women continue to be prosecuted for procuring their own abortions, even though the push to decriminalise abortion is growing in the rest of the UK.

“We need full repeal of the 8th Amendment in the Republic of Ireland, and proper legislation in Northern Ireland. We need access to free, safe and legal abortion for all who need or want it. And we need it now.”

Thousands of women seeking an abortion have had to travel to the UK every year to get the procedure, which is legal under Westminster, but Irish women have had to pay up to £4,000 for travel, accommodation and medical costs.

Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country, currently has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. The eighth amendment was voted in a time when contraception was also illegal in Ireland.

A woman can face 14 years in prison for taking abortion pills which can be ordered online.

Terminating a pregnancy is only allowed under extremely rare circumstances where the mother’s life is in danger. This provision to protect the mother was voted into the Constitution in the 1980s by a large majority in another referendum.

However, referendums have recently led to progressive social change, for example, same sex marriage was legalised in 2015.

Various high-profile cases of women seeking bodily autonomy have forced the issue into the spotlight.

The UN committee focused on Amanda Mellet, who was 21 weeks pregnant when she was told that her baby would die in the womb or shortly after birth. She got an abortion in the UK but could not afford to stay long, and was forced to have her baby’s ashes flown to her separately.

In March, women across the country went on strike for a day, wearing black, to protest the laws. The campaign group, Strike 4 Repeal, was inspired by similar protests in Poland in 2016, where women took to the streets, waving coat hangers as a powerful symbol of women who were at serious risk via underground and illegal procedures.

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