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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

A Changing Ireland: Will the Irish Allow Abortion in the Coming Referendum?


Ireland is currently amidst political turmoil surrounding legislature prohibiting abortion. Ireland’s laws have prohibited abortion for more than a hundred and fifty years. The current legislation governing Irish citizens, their eighth amendment to their constitution, claims “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” This means it is illegal for women to have abortions unless pregnancy or having a baby will pose an immediate threat to their lives.



Abortion has been illegal in Ireland for over 150 years. The Offences Against the Person Act in 1861 made it a crime both to have an abortion and to help someone have an abortion, or “procure a miscarriage,” as the legislature reads. Both infractions can lead to life in prison. This was the law for more than 120 years, and any abortion, no matter how it would affect the mother, was illegal.

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This remained unchanged until 1983. A referendum was held on abortion, and two-thirds of the Irish populace voted against it. Though most abortions remained illegal, the law was changed to provide exemption for the pregnant women– if having the baby would be a threat to the mother’s life, the baby could be aborted. The vote was seen as a huge victory for Irish pro-lifers. However, ever since the eighth amendment was passed, pro-choice Irish men and women have been protesting the remaining anti-abortion legislation.

Since 1983, many cases and special examples have put pressure on the government to change the legislation. One such groundbreaking situation was the X-Case. In December of 1993, a 14 year-old girl was raped and impregnated. When she attempted to travel to London in order to get an abortion, the Irish Attorney General got an interim injunction, requiring the family to return home. It seemed an abortion would be impossible. However, the 1983 legislature holds the pregnant woman’s life equal to the foetus, and the girl revealed that she had contemplated suicide during the pregnancy. At the risk of the death of both the girl and the foetus, she was allowed an abortion.

The legislature still prohibits abortion in cases of rape, incest, inevitable miscarriage and fatal foetal abnormality. Pro-choice activists still believe there is lot of progress to be made.


Moving Forward

Circumstances like that in the X-Case have induced another referendum. On September 27, 2017, the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, declared that a new referendum surrounding the potential legalisation of abortion would be held in 2018. On January 29, 2018, the government formally announced that the referendum would happen in late May of 2018. Why the delay? Varadkar claimed: “Any amendment to our constitution requires careful consideration by the people. They should be given ample time to consider the issues and to take part in well-informed public debate.”

The vote represents a massive step forward in Ireland’s progressive ideas. Currently, polls suggest that more people support lifting the amendment than keeping it in place. The country’s traditionally conservative Catholic ideals have been radically progressing over the past few years. In addition to the announcement of the referendum, Ireland also legalized gay marriage in the past five years– barely more than twenty years after they decriminalized homosexuality. Perhaps Ireland’s advances toward becoming a more tolerant nation will be replicated worldwide.

By Torin O’Brien

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