St. Lawrence University
Darcy Best, SLU '16

 

Abortion rights have been controversial in many countries around the world, but the right to an abortion has been particularly contentious in the Republic of Ireland during the past few years. Ireland’s populace is largely Roman Catholic, and the Church views abortion as a grave sin. Over 150 years ago, abortion was made a criminal offense in Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which remained in effect until 1983 when the country voted two-to-one to enact the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland. Also known as Article 40.3, this amendment equates the right to life of the unborn with the right to life of its mother. In practice, this meant the Irish legal system banned all abortions.

Much has happened since 1983. Public opinion has shifted drastically and now supports safe and legal abortions in Ireland, and legal cases have begun to reflect this change in attitude. For example, a Supreme Court case in 1992 known as Attorney General vs. X dealt with a suicidal minor who was impregnated via rape and her request to travel abroad for an abortion. The outcome determined that abortion remained illegal in Ireland, unless the pregnancy threatened the life of the woman, including the risk of suicide.

In addition, the Thirteenth Amendment, enacted in1992, allowed travel abroad to those seeking an abortion. Thousands of Irish women have since done exactly that. Figures from the UK Department of Health show that 4,149 women travelled to England and Wales to receive terminations in 2011 alone, with a total of over 150,000 Irish women travelling abroad for abortions since 1980.

One woman’s tragic case in 2012 forcibly brought abortion rights in Ireland to a head. Savita Halappanavar died on October 28, 2012, in a Galway hospital from complications of a septic miscarriage. One complication in this case was that although medical professionals knew the fetus would not survive, its heartbeat barred them from terminating the pregnancy under the Eighth Amendment, ultimately causing the woman’s death. As a result, a restricted right to an abortion was finally signed into law under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. Due to public outcry, massive support for the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment quickly poured in from all over the world.

Today, street art, stickers, sweaters, and buttons call to “Repeal the 8th” and for “Free Safe and Legal” terminations. As a sign of changing perspectives on abortion, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar confirmed in January of 2018 that he himself would campaign to end the ban on abortion. A nation-wide referendum is scheduled to take place at the end of May 2018.

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