Ireland votes to overturn 35-year-old constitutional ban on abortion

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

In the official result of Friday's Irish referendum over the legality of abortion, referendum officer Barry Ryan announced yesterday 66.4% of voters favoured overturning the eighth amendment of the constitution. Introduced in 1983, the eighth amendment made abortion constitutionally illegal. Irish Taoiseach — Prime Minister — Leo Varadkar said supporting legislation, to be framed following the result of this referendum, is to be "enacted before the end of this year".

66.4% (represented in green) citizens voted to repeal the 8th amendment, while 33.6% voted in favour of anti-abortion law. Turnout: 64.1%
Image: acagastya. (CC BY 2.5)

More than 2.1 million people voted on the referendum on Friday. With a 64.1% turnout, 1,429,981 voted in favour of eliminating the abortion ban while 723,632 voted to keep it. The results were announced at Dublin Castle. About 6000 voters spoiled their votes. Calling it "an historic day", Prime Minister Varadkar said it was "a great act of democracy." Ministers said they would form laws allowing medical termination of pregnancy in the first trimester, twelve weeks, of pregnancy, and under special cases until the 24th week. The legislation is to be formed after discussion with medical experts.

Percentage who voted 'Yes' to overturn the eighth amendment, per constituency
Image: acagastya. (CC BY 4.0)

Since the amendment, Article 40.3.3 of the Irish constitution, in 1983, which gave an unborn child equal rights to life as the mother, hundreds of thousands of women traveled to different countries for the medical termination of pregnancy, while some used medical drugs illegal in Ireland to terminate the pregnancy.

"Savita Matters, Women Matter" was one of the slogans used by the supporters who wanted to repeal the amendment. In October 2012, a 31-year-old dentist of Indian origin, Savita Halappanavar, died from sepsis at a Galway hospital after she was denied abortion for a protracted miscarriage. She was told by a midwife that termination of pregnancy would not be possible since Ireland was a "Catholic country". Halappanavar's photo was used for posters by supporters who wanted the 35-year-old amendment repealed. In 2016, the current Roman Catholic Pope, Pope Francis, described abortion as a "very grave sin" and a "horrendous crime".

Halappanavar's father Andanappa Yalagi told Hindustan Times, "We've got justice for Savita. What happened to her will not happen to any other family. I have no words to express my gratitude to the people of Ireland at this historic moment." 39 of 40 Irish constituencies voted in favour of repealing the law, while voters in only one constituency, Donegal, voted against — 51.87% opting to keep the anti-abortion laws. After the result was announced, the crowd were chanting Savita's name in front of Dublin Castle.

Cora Sherlock, an anti-abortion activist, said, "what we voted on today is the ending of human life." "I will accept the will of the Irish people, at the same time I will make it very clear what I feel of the campaign that has taken place. We will now regroup and find out what our next move is", she added. Another activist, David Quinn, said, "The result today is basically a reversal of the 1983 result. On that occasion the defeated side did not simply slip away."

"The people have said that we want a modern constitution for a modern country", Prime Minister Varadkar said. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later congratulated Varadkar on Twitter, saying: "What a moment for democracy and women's rights."


Citizens near the Dublin Castle for the declaration of the referendum result.
Image: Katenolan1979 (CC BY-SA 4.0).


Citizens raising a toast after the result of the referendum was to repeal.
Image: Katenolan1979 (CC BY-SA 4.0).
A woman with the t-shirt saying "Repeal"
Image: Katenolan1979 (CC BY-SA 4.0).
File photo of November 2012 protests following Halappanavar's death
Image: William Murphy (CC BY-SA 2.0).


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