Ireland overturns abortion ban in landslide vote

A man walks past a mural showing Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist who had sought and been denied an abortion before she died after a miscarriage in a Galway hospital, with the word YES over it, in Dublin, Ireland.   | Photo Credit: AP

Ireland voted by an overwhelming majority to overturn a constitutional ban on abortion in a historic referendum in this traditionally Catholic country, final results showed on Saturday.

The pro-choice campaign won Friday's referendum with 66% of the 2.1 million votes cast, the returning officer said at the central counting centre in Dublin Castle.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Saturday hailed a resounding referendum majority in favour of overturning the abortion ban as the “culmination of a quiet revolution”.

“What we’ve seen today is the culmination of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in Ireland for the past 10 or 20 years,” Mr. Varadkar told RTE, Ireland’s public broadcaster.

Ireland has voted by a landslide to liberalise some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.

“The people have said that we want a modern Constitution for a modern country, that we trust women and that we respect them to make the right decisions and the right choices about their own healthcare.”

“It’s incredible. For all the years and years and years, we’ve been trying to look after women and not been able to look after women, this means everything,” said Mary Higgins, obstetrician and Together For Yes campaigner.

‘Resounding result’

“The public have spoken. The result appears to be resounding ... in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment” constitutional ban on abortion, Mr. Varadkar told journalists in Dublin.

The outcome will be the latest milestone on a path of change for a country which only legalised divorce by a razor thin majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

“For him [his son], it’s a different Ireland that we’re moving onto. It’s an Ireland that is more tolerant, more inclusive and where he can be whatever he wants without fear of recrimination,” said Colm O’Riain, a 44-year-old teacher with his son Ruarai, who was born 14 weeks premature in November.

A spokesman for an anti-abortion umbrella group, Save The 8th, conceded there was “no prospect” the country’s abortion ban, imposed in a 1983 referendum, would be retained. “However, a wrong does not become a right simply because a majority support it.”

Voters were asked if they wish to scrap the amendment, which gives an unborn child and its mother equal rights to life. The consequent prohibition on abortion was partly lifted in 2013 for cases where the mother’s life was in danger.

The country’s largest newspaper, the Irish Independent described the result as “a massive moment in Ireland’s social history”.

Campaigners for change, wearing “Repeal” jumpers and “Yes” badges, gathered at the main Dublin count centre, many in tears and hugging each other.

Other prospects

Reform in Ireland also raised the prospect that women in Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal, may start travelling south of the border. No social issue has divided Ireland’s 4.8 million people as sharply as abortion, which was pushed up the political agenda by the death in 2012 of a 31-year-old Indian immigrant from a septic miscarriage after she was refused a termination.

Campaigners left flowers and candles at a large mural of the woman, Savita Halappanavar, in central Dublin.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 7:31:49 AM |

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