On Friday, May 25, Ireland will go to the polls to decide whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the extremely contentious piece of legislation that effectively bans abortion in almost all circumstances.
The referendum has been a long time coming. The amendment, signed into law on October 7, 1983, gave an “equal right to life” to both mother and fetus. Abortion—even in cases of rape, fatal fetal abnormality, and incest—is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. It is one of the harshest anti-abortion laws in the world.
In practice, the Eighth Amendment has forced thousands of women to travel overseas for abortions every year and led others to risk their liberty by illegally procuring abortion drugs over the internet. The ban has also brought untold suffering and cost some women their lives, as in the 2012 case of Savita Halappanavar, the Galway-based dentist who died of complications from a septic miscarriage after being denied an abortion. In 2016, the United Nations ruled that the country’s criminalization of abortion qualified as a human rights violation.
As the Eighth Amendment was written into the Irish constitution, it can only be repealed by a public vote. Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar announced the referendum date in late March. “However difficult, I believe the time has come to allow the people to make this decision,” he said in January. “The question has to be a Yes or No one: do we reform our abortion laws or do we leave them as they are?”
This week, Broadly is lending its platform to the pro-choice activists who have fought tirelessly to bring the country to a vote, and to encourage participation in this landmark referendum. We are also highlighting the voices of those victimized by this inhumane and barbaric law—women like Claire Cullen-Delsol, a mother of two who was forced to carry her unviable pregnancy to term, and others who shared their stories of traveling abroad to receive medical care with NOT AT HOME, an art campaign set up by Irish campaigners. On the day of the historic vote, we will be reporting from on the ground in Dublin, Ireland, and London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign activist Lianne Hickey will liveblog her experience of heading to the polls on our Instagram Stories.
All around the world, we have seen the disastrous consequences of restricting abortion. In the US, we've witnessed firsthand how rolling back access is felt hardest by poor women and marginalized communities. Poland has seen mass protests in response to ever-tougher sanctions on abortion. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where abortion is illegal, desperate women push plant roots and herbal concoctions into their vagina to induce abortion. In Brazil, a congressional committee voted to ban abortion in every single circumstance—including in cases where the woman’s life is at risk.
This Friday, Ireland has a chance to be on the right side of history. Repealing the Eighth would change millions of lives for the better. It would place the right to reproductive choice back in the hands of those it has, and always should, belong to—women.
Follow all our Repeal the Eighth coverage here.