On 25th May, Ireland will hold a referendum on repealing the 8th amendment and liberalising their strict abortion laws. Ahead of the vote, we’ve got an introduction to the referendum and the campaign to repeal the 8th, in this blog and on our Radicals in Conversation podcast.
In this brief introduction, Maev McDaid, a London-based Irish abortion rights activist with Alliance for Choice, tells you all you need to know about the referendum and what you can do to help the activists fighting this reactionary and misogynist legislation.
What is the 8th Amendment?
The 8th amendment was introduced to the Republic of Ireland in 1983, abortion was already illegal then and the amendment declared that the life of the mother was equal to the ‘life of the unborn’, therefore restricted abortions to circumstances where the life of a pregnant women was at risk. The amendment also added ‘guarantees’ to ‘respect’ ‘and as far as practicable… to defend and vindicate’ the equal rights of the mother to the unborn child. The absence of legislation on this amendment has meant that an unclear definition of what ‘as far as practicable’ actually means that women and pregnant people have been put at greater risk ever since the institution of the eighth.
If the amendment is repealed then the Irish Government will legislate on abortion, most likely up to 12 weeks, and this will also open up the way for women and pregnant people in the North of Ireland, where abortion is still illegal.
Why is the referendum happening now?
Abortions have always happened, regardless of whether they are legal or not. Up until now, for those who have wanted terminations, they are to cross the Irish Sea (up to 12 crossings for abortions occur per day), endure backstreet abortions, take pills in secrecy, or have children they did not want or could not have. As more and more people have come out with their own abortion stories, the shame around it is increasingly destigmatised, and people have begun to realise how endemic the problem is and why it should not be exported to Britain.
With Savita Halappanavar‘s tragic death in 2012, which occurred after her being denied several times a termination that would have saved her life, the movement across Ireland has stepped up momentum making the case for free, safe and legal abortions. This was met with the Irish Government passing The General Scheme of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013. This reaffirmed the illegality of abortion and the imprisonment of up to 14 years for procuring one, at a time when the rest of the country were saying ‘Never Again.’ This in no small measure played a role in the standing of the former Taoiseach.
Who are Repeal the 8th?
The movement has grown exponentially in the last number of years and is encouraged by the amazing feedback it has received. The modern Repeal movement emerged as a civil rights movement making it easy, accessible and relevant to join. It has a presence in Ireland, North and South, across Britain and wherever you find Irish migrants across the globe so too will you find a Repeal Movement.
Online and on the streets Repeal the 8th are winning the debate, as people want to live in an Ireland where they are trusted, and not sent in shame on planes across the water.
What can I do to support the Repeal the 8th Movement?
With not long to go until the vote, we ask that everyone spreads the word and gets involved in any way they can. Between now and then, Maev and Lewis will join tens of thousands of others across Ireland on the streets to make the case for repealing the 8th. There will be plenty of opportunities to get involved, both with the massive cultural backing Repeal the 8th has had in the form of plays, gigs, fundraisers, as well as opportunities to speak to people through canvassing, social media and local media.
The movement is a coalition of people who want to see an end to the Church and State interfering in our bodies. Join if you can.
If you have any questions about the blog or podcast and want more information, or to get involved in the fight to decriminalise abortion across Ireland visit:
Maev McDaid is a PhD student and a London-based Irish Abortion Rights Activist with Alliance for Choice from Derry.