The Eighth Amendment Referendum: Analytical Essay

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The referendum to abolish the Eighth Amendment in The Republic of Ireland has been a long-awaited step in the right direction for a more liberalised society in Ireland. After legalising equal marriage for all genders and sexualities; it only seemed fitting that the Irish government would allow the populace to take part in a referendum to drop the Eighth Amendment. However, the referendum could be seen as a threat to more conservative people who believe that it goes against Catholic traditions and virtues. What does the future look like for a liberal Ireland?

To understand the impact that the amendment has on the people of Ireland (especially women), one needs to understand and familiarise themselves with the idea of abortion. Abortion is when a pregnant mother (typically under twelve weeks pregnant) purposely terminates the pregnancy. There are many factors in why the mother may terminate: One example is the mother was sexually assaulted and was impregnated forcefully (not only does this cause the victim to become pregnant, the assaulter can possibly pass on a sexually transmitted infection like Gonorrhoea. Another main factor is that the baby is a danger to the mother’s wellbeing or general health (so it could mean that the baby can possibly kill the mother in the process of birth). However, the crowning factor in why mother’s abort is because they do not have the means to look after it efficiently, for example it could be a case of that the mother’s main income has been disrupted by different other factors like losing their jobs.

The Republic of Ireland instated the Eighth Amendment in 1983 after a referendum on the 7th of September 1983, however in 1861, abortion was already illegal under the Offences Against Person act. The Eighth Amendment states that: “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 that the act of abortion goes against the rights of the unborn and the baby may be only aborted if it is a risk to health as if granted by the government. This has massive repercussions as it says that even if the child has an illness that would hinder its health and wellbeing after birth or it is due to die after birth or even that it is a late pregnancy miscarriage, the mother would still have to give birth the child bearing in mind the grief she may feel while doing so. This law was also solidified by the Right of Information act of 1995. The act states that: “An act to prescribe the conditions set to which certain information relating to services lawfully available outside the state for the termination of pregnancies and to persons who provide such services may be given to individual or the general public, to amend the indecent advertisements Act, 1889, and the censorship of publications acts 1929 to 1967, and to provide for related matters.” This means that even health professionals such as nurses and physicians cannot advertise or hand out information leaflets to women who are in need of termination or not are banned all together. However, it is not uncommon for healthcare workers and councillors to have the “contraband” in their clinics even though if they were caught having them, they would be charged a large fine or even prison sentence.

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When it comes to Irish women in need of abortion – health risk or not – it was very common that they turned to Great Britain for abortion procedures before the referendum (except Northern Ireland as it is still prohibited in most circumstances) as the laws allow women to terminate pregnancy under most circumstances. The rate of women from Ireland going to the United Kingdom for abortion before the referendum was 3.5% per 1000 and from the 2016 consensus that is eighty-two thousand, four hundred and five women. This is in comparison to 3.1% after the referendum which is a significant drop – which is good news for the NHS as they would not have as much pressure from the influx of women coming from Ireland.

On the 25th of May 2018, the public had their say via the referendum to get rid of the Eighth Amendment all together to set in stone the progress that Ireland needs to make to not only be in-line with the UK, but the whole of Europe as Ireland’s abortion laws have been the strictest in the entirety of the EU. This referendum in turn, would make the Republic of Ireland more liberalised like the UK as the UK has equal rights for both men and women and that includes allowing abortions for women and being able to access information surrounding it. With the months leading up to the referendum, there was massive campaigns for Yes, this included protests, marches, decorations and posters. These elements to advertise the yes campaign were often quite flamboyant and colourful to attract the eyes of passers-by. These were considered non-Catholic “propaganda” to more conservative people. The vote itself was won by the Yes campaign by a significant margin, this is mainly due to two-thirds of the political constituencies voting for Yes. The result for Yes was 64.4% compared to the 33.6% who voted No. Nevertheless, Donegal did in fact vote No in majority with 51.9% voting No.

In the months following after the referendum, the aim of the Prime Minister of Ireland was to officially remove the amendment from the constitution. The Prime Minister stated that: “a historic day for Ireland.” He also said in his speech to the spectators of Dublin Castle: “no more stigma as the veil of secrecy is lifted and no more isolation as the burden of shame is gone.” These powerful words reflect on the progress and the stepping stone that Ireland has made in being more like the rest of Europe and especially the United Kingdom. That Ireland will no longer turn a cold shoulder to women in need of the help that they need. Nevertheless, this has put the crosshairs on Northern Ireland and the Democratic Unionist Party to evaluate the abortion laws in Northern Ireland and to be on par with the newly liberalised Republic of Ireland.


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