Ireland Has Voted to Legalize Abortion

In a stunning victory for reproductive rights, the Irish public has chosen to repeal the Eighth Amendment—meaning that for the first time ever, abortion will be legal in the country.

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May 26 2018, 11:44am

Photo by Mark Henderson via Alamy

You can read all of Broadly's coverage of the movement to repeal the Eighth Amendment here.

In a historic day for reproductive rights, lreland has voted by an overwhelming majority to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the piece of legislation that bans abortion in all cases except where a woman's life is in danger.

After intense campaigning from both pro-choice and anti-choice activists, the Yes camp won by a stunning landslide that's expected to top between 68-69 percent, to the 31-2 percent achieved by No voters, when all the results are finally tallied, according to polling from RTÉ and the Irish Times. In Dublin, as many as 79 percent of voters supported abortion rights. Remarkably, every part of Ireland voted in favor of abortion rights: in no area did the "No" vote win a majority.

And although the final result won't be made public before 9pm this evening, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who supported the Repeal campaign, has celebrated the result on Twitter, and the anti-abortion Save the Eighth campaign has conceded defeat.

Commenting on the result in a phone call with Broadly, Hannah Little of the Abortion Rights Campaign described it as a momentous step forward for Irish women and girls. "I'm absolutely delighted," Little said. "To see all the 'Yeses' coming in across the country—I don't think there's a single ballot box that voted no—is amazing."

A jubilant Little described the final stages of the pro-choice campaign as a remarkable, and at times moving, spectacle. "Seeing thousands of people flying home from all corners of the world, from Thailand to Australia, to come home and have their say, was incredibly powerful. It was a really emotional time. We're all looking forward to moving onto a brighter future for Irish women."

Although Ireland has now voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, this does not now mean that abortion is legal in the country. Rather, the Irish government will now introduce legislation in Ireland’s Dáil (parliament) to legalize abortion following the Yes vote.

When the legislation is passed, Irish women will be able to access abortion on demand up until the 12th week of their pregnancy. After that, abortions will still be available if two doctors certify that the pregnant woman faces risk of death or serious harm, or if the fetus has a medical condition that makes it likely to die before or shortly after birth.

Medical practitioners in the majority-Catholic nation will be able to conscientiously object to performing terminations, but will be required to refer women to colleagues to perform the procedure.

Campaigners will now turn their attention to changing the law in Northern Ireland, where abortion remains illegal in almost all circumstances. "It must not be forgotten that us women in Northern Ireland are still persecuted by a Victorian-era abortion ban," says Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International. “The UK Government can no longer turn a blind eye and deny us equality. We cannot be left behind in a corner of the UK and on the island of Ireland as second-class citizens.”

Today’s result would not have been possible without the tireless work of activists who have been campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment since it was introduced in 1983, and whose campaign accrued renewed urgency following the death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied a life-saving abortion in 2012. This is their victory—and the generations of Irish women and girls to come who will now finally enjoy reproductive choice have them to thank.

"Today was for Savita," Little comments. "We hope we've done her proud."