Ahead of Friday’s vote on whether to repeal the country’s eighth constitutional amendment banning abortion in most cases, many in Ireland were optimistic the “Yes” vote would prevail. But few had predicted such an overwhelming margin of victory, a development that will now change the country’s decades-long restrictive anti-abortion policies.
At 6:13 p.m. local time, the announcement was made at Dublin Castle that the Eighth Amendment would be repealed, the BBC reported. Of more than 2.1 million votes, more than 1.4 million people voted in favor of the repeal, for a total vote of 66.4% in favor and 33.6% against, The Irish Times announced.
In an earlier statement, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar had called the repeal movement “a quiet revolution that’s been taking place in Ireland for the past 10 or 20 years,” HuffPost reported. After the votes were tallied, he added:
We all want to ensure that there are fewer crisis pregnancies and fewer abortions. Thanks to sex education, wider availability of contraceptives and emergency contraception, abortion rates are already falling and teenage pregnancy is at its lowest since the 1960s.
We will continue to improve access to sexual health and education to reduce crisis pregnancies and abortions further in the year ahead…In the years ahead we will build on these policies so Ireland will become one of the best places in the world to raise a family. Families of all forms.
As The New York Times reported, the vote “cemented the nation’s liberal shift at a time when right-wing populism is on the rise in Europe and the Trump administration is imposing curbs on abortion rights in the United States.” Just three years ago, in 2015, Ireland voted to legalize same-sex marriage. And a series of sexual abuse scandals has tarnished the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church and diminished its grip over the nation’s populace in recent years.
In June 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Ireland’s abortion laws had subjected women to “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment,” The Guardian reported. It was the second time in just a year that the U.N. committee had admonished the country over its restrictive abortion laws. In last year’s decision, the U.N. found in favor of Siobhán Whelan, who was diagnosed with fatal fetal syndrome, yet was denied access to an abortion in 2010.
That decision followed the case of Amanda Mellet, who in 2016 became the first woman to be compensated by the government over the trauma she endured by having to travel to Britain for an abortion.
That case occurred just a few years after the widely publicized death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, a dentist who was denied an abortion and later died of complications from a septic miscarriage. Halappanavar’s death forced politicians “to confront an issue we have dodged for much too long,” Labour Party politician Robert Dowds said at the time.
The Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution in 1983 recognized an equal “right to life” for both fetuses and pregnant mothers, banning abortion in most cases. Following Friday’s referendum, the Irish parliament is now expected to pass legislation legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks without restriction and in cases of serious risks to life or health.
“This is a monumental day for women in Ireland,” Orla O’Connor, co-director of the Together for Yes group told the Associated Press. “This is about women taking their rightful place in Irish society, finally.”
The win “now means I can do my job without the fear of going to jail,” Dublin doctor Grainne McDermott told The New York Times.