In a stunning defeat for the Irish Catholic Church, voters in Ireland over the weekend passed a referendum making abortion legal. The historic vote was a landslide victory for champions of women’s rights and those who believe women should have the power to control decisions affecting their own bodies.
The latest numbers show that the referendum passed by a two-thirds majority with over 66% voting yes and less than 34% voting no.
Ireland’s health minister, Simon Harris, said he will move forward by having his ministry promulgate new abortion laws in accordance with Saturday’s referendum result. The referendum not only clearly expressed the will of the people but also overturned a 35-year old prohibition on abortions in Ireland.
Harris said he would start the process of issuing new abortion rules on Tuesday when the Irish cabinet plans to meet. He said that he intended to draft new laws allowing pregnancy terminations within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, although terminations up to 24 weeks might be allowed in unusual circumstances.
Orla O’Connor, the co-director of the Together for Yes campaign, said it was “a monumental day for women in Ireland”, calling the result “a rejection of an Ireland that treats women as second-class citizens.”
Support for abolishing the eighth amendment to the Irish Constitution which had outlawed abortions was spread throughout the entire country and not just in urban areas. Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said that the referendum vote proved this was “not Dublin versus the rest … not a rural-urban division”.
Draft legislation will now be formalized over the coming weeks and voted on in Ireland’s parliament this fall. Leaders in Parliament said they planned to have the law changed before the end of this year.
Due to the large number of voters in favor the law change it is not expected to face any major obstacles getting through parliament. Members who had opposed abortions have acknowledged they need to pay attention to the overwhelming results in favor of abortion rights.
At Saturday’s announcement of the referendum results in Dublin, Health Minister Harris gave the following uplifting message to supporters of repeal: “Under the eighth amendment we used to say to women in crisis: take the boat or take the plane. Today we say, take our hand.”
This is truly an historic event for Ireland, and it is possible that it will provide new energy and needed momentum for the movement in the United States to allow women the freedom to choose what to do with their own bodies when they become pregnant. It should be a wake-up call to the so-called “pro-life” forces who have been working nonstop for years to take away women’s reproductive rights.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.