Jun 11, 2018
Ireland saw a record high turnout of 61.4 percent of voters for a May 25th referendum to allow abortion to be legalized. This vote overturned the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution. Passed in 1992, the 8th Amendment banned any changes to the country’s abortion laws that originally had been created in 1861.
In this largely Catholic country, yes votes were at 64.4 percent in favor of having more liberal abortion laws.
In large numbers, it was young women who organized and militantly pushed for the yes vote.
In line with the #MeToo movement, more and more women in Ireland had spoken out publicly about their own abortion experiences. They expressed the difficulties and the shame they faced when they had to get an abortion.
Out of 40 voting districts in Ireland, 39 voted yes. The one area where voters said no was Donegal. Here, turnout was low but even in this very rural area, the no vote was only 51.9 percent.
Many people hesitated to vote yes because of Catholic tradition. But the grip of the Church on life in Ireland has lessened after a series of scandals came to light.
Through the fights of ordinary people, the truth of abuse that was covered up by the Catholic Church hierarchy has been exposed. In one case, the sexual abuse of thousands of children by pedophile priests became public. In another, corpses of malnourished children were discovered near a former Catholic home for unwed mothers.
But the tragic death of a 31-year-old woman, a dentist of Indian descent, seemed to be what broke the hold of the Catholic Church. This young woman, Savita Halappanavar, had a miscarriage and died of sepsis – of a massive infection – after being denied an abortion.
Under the total abortion ban in Ireland, doctors risked life in prison for performing an abortion. In Savita’s case, doctors waited too long to act and Savita died. With the approval of her family, many of the “vote yes” signs in Ireland pictured this young and vibrant woman, gone too soon.
Part of why this vote for women’s right to abortion was successful was that after all the scandals, Catholic church leaders remained silent around the vote.
When news of the yes vote hit the news, this brought many Irish people out into the streets to rejoice and celebrate.
This vote was a good beginning! The next fight for women in Ireland will need to be over how abortion will be paid for.