Ireland’s Voters Free Women from An Insidious Abortion Law

Photo: Paul Faith/AFP

“I may have woken in a new Ireland”


Fiona de Londras of the University of Birmingham writes for The Conversation:


I write this sitting in a small café in Ranelagh, a prosperous part of Dublin. It is early on Saturday morning and, although you wouldn’t think it just by walking down the street, I may have woken in a new Ireland.

An overwhelming majority of Irish people have voted to repeal the 8th amendment of the national constitution.

This insidious, cruel and harmful provision was inserted in 1983 as a preemptive strike against women’s liberation. It has reduced women in pregnancy to a constitutional being with the right only not to die and the obligation to sacrifice all else to bring the fetus to term.

The sanitized story of the 8th amendment is that it recognises the right to life of the fetus with due regard to the equal right to life of the pregnant woman. The lived reality of this constitutional story is more than 170,000 journeys across the Irish Sea to access abortion, thousands of illegal abortions through self-administration of the abortion pill, and countless women “caught out” and becoming mothers when they did not want to. It is part of a long, difficult, and deliberate construction of Irish womanhood as linked inextricably to motherhood, of sex as stigma, and of establishment attempts to use the force of the law to keep us in our nation-building, post-colonial place.

No Freedom without the Freedom of Women

Now men and women, the young and the old, parents and those without children, politicians (including those considered conservative), and generations of activists who always believed we would finally unshackle ourselves from this constitutional confinement have cast votes to usher in a country of free women and girls.

The path ahead will be bumpy and hard. As in every other country, the forces that oppose sexual freedom, bodily autonomy and women’s ethical agency will continue to do so. And they remain powerful. But they can no longer rely on a constitutional text to fuel their mission.

Under the next 36th amendment to the Constitution, “provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy”. That legislation will go through the political process and hopefully be completed by the end of the year. Until then we will continue to rely with gratitude on the kindness and care of doctors and nurses in the UK and elsewhere to provide the healthcare Irish women need. As I watched the votes being counted, nine women will have boarded planes and go to London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester for their abortions. But they will go knowing they are among the last.

The ConversationNí saoirse go saoirse na mban (There is no freedom until the freedom of women).

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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