Irish citizens prepare to vote on abortion laws

Police are seen at a new Pro-Choice mural by a graffiti artist collective called 'Subset' ahead of a 25th May referendum on abortion law, in Dublin. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

Police are seen at a new Pro-Choice mural by a graffiti artist collective called 'Subset' ahead of a 25th May referendum on abortion law, in Dublin. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

Irish expatriates are returning to Ireland on Friday to vote on a referendum that will decide the fate of an amendment that could potentially ban abortion.

On March 8, the Irish government approved a Bill permitting a referendum to take place on May 24, which will decide if abortion laws in the country will be amended. As news of the referendum circulated, Irish citizens living abroad have taken to Twitter to announce that they will be returning to Ireland to take part in the vote, using the hashtag #HomeToVote. Irish citizens announced that they will be travelling from across the globe to exercise their right to vote.

The referendum will decide on the appeal of the 1983 eighth amendment, which gives foetuses/embryos and pregnant women “equal right to life”, essentially banning most abortions nationwide.
Currently, abortions are illegal in the country, making Ireland’s laws on abortion some of the most severe in the world.

In the majority Catholic country, women can only get abortions in Ireland under extremely limited circumstances including “risk of loss of life from physical illness”, “risk of loss of life from physical illness in emergency” and “risk of loss of life from suicide”. Currently, women who are impregnated through rape or incest cannot terminate a pregnancy. Additionally foetal abnormalities and women’s health concerns are not accepted as legitimate reasons to end a pregnancy. The consequence for an abortion include a fine and/or a maximum 14-year prison sentence.

When the referendum was first announced, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar explained the decision to move forward with the referendum saying, “This referendum is about asking our citizens to allow women to make major decisions for themselves. It’s about trusting women to decide, in the early weeks of their pregnancy, what’s right for them and their families.”

Irish health minister Simon Harris says he has faith that Irish citizens will pass the referendum saying it would be a great opportunity for citizens to consider the misgivings of the current law.

“I believe that as people reflect on the current situation in Ireland, where women are forced abroad to have a termination, where women are purchasing abortion pills illegally online and where women in extremely difficult situations are left isolated and neglected, that the Irish people will vote to repeal the eighth amendment.” Harris said.

If the referendum passes women will be able to get unrestricted abortions for up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Additionally, a policy paper published by the Irish government stated that it would no longer make a “distinction” between mental and physical health risks.

According to sexual health provider Irish Family Planning Association, since 1983 more than 168 000 women have left Ireland to access abortion services outside of Ireland. According to Irish media site The Journal, five Irish women illegally order abortion pills online each day.

As of 2013, 61 countries around the world permit abortion with no restrictions. These countries constitute 39% of the world’s population. Although abortion is legal in these countries, many of them have gestational limits.

Arielle Schwartz

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