In an historic vote, 66.4 per cent of Irish voters supported pro-choice in legalising abortion on Friday. It is a decision which shows promise for the future of women in Ireland and the liberalisation of a country which has long existed under the large influence of the Catholic Church.
The 8th Amendment
The vote to repeal the 8th Amendment is demonstrative of the power of a younger generation. With the amendment being added to the constitution in only 1983, Ireland is finally seeing a development away from stringent Catholic conservatism towards the possibility of being a liberal country. The inclusion of the 8th Amendment in the constitution was to protect the existing illegality of abortion. By law, the foetus was given an equal right to life as the mother, completely banning abortion, aside from cases where the mother’s life is under great risk.
However, as is inevitably the case, banning abortion only compromises its safety as women will still try to terminate unwanted pregnancies. On a daily basis, women in Ireland were travelling to Britain to undergo abortions and some were purchasing abortion pills online. By rule of the 8th Amendment, the practice of abortion in Ireland was punishable by 14 years imprisonment. Considering that the majority of Irish prisoners sentenced to life serve 12 years, the severity of abortion in the justice system is clear.
Pro-life vs. Pro-choice
The moral argument over abortions is reducible to how the foetus is valued. Those that take the ‘pro-life’ stance consider the foetus to have the same right to life as any person. On this view, abortion is morally impermissible because in terminating a pregnancy you are depriving a person of life. Hence, as far as the pro-life argument is concerned, abortion is morally comparable to murder.
To contest this view is to be ‘pro-choice’. Believing in a woman’s bodily autonomy; her body, her choice.
From my perspective, how a woman should value her foetus is completely down to her. All women experience pregnancy differently and the circumstances under which a woman finds herself pregnant differ from person to person. Hence, to objectively determine the intrinsic value of all foetuses is unreasonable.
The underlying point of pro-choice is that if a woman does not want to have a baby then she should not be forced to remain pregnant. Women do not exist solely as baby-rearing machines and so we should always have a choice in pregnancy.
Ireland’s pro-life campaign was spearheaded by a man, their Spokesman John McGuirk. It is almost too ironic to be truly infuriating that a man could be so deeply invested in a decision that exclusively concerns a woman’s body. Without the possibility of ever experiencing an unwanted pregnancy, I struggle to see how any man can be truly determined to prevent women from having the right to choose.
As a young woman myself I recognise the extreme commonality of this issue, which can affect any woman from any background. An estimated 1 in 3 women will have an abortion. Legal abortion is safe abortion so it is in everyone’s best interests. Allowing women to have the right to terminate their pregnancy does not compromise the values of women who disagree with abortion, the whole point of the law is to allow choice, not to change any individual’s own values.
Therefore, it is only right that Ireland has made the decision to repeal the 8th. Women will now have access to safe abortions up to 12 weeks into their pregnancy, and after in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.
A Liberal Future For Ireland …?
Ireland has now had a series of referendums which suggest that the majority of its citizens are a generation quite different to those before them. Allowing divorce and then being the first country to legalise gay marriage, the turnouts coming from Ireland’s predominantly young urban areas show that a positive liberal attitude is beginning to dominate. Same-sex marriage signified a sharp reform in Ireland’s traditionally Catholic mindset.
The Catholic Church was disgraced by the abuses of power that were exposed in 2002. The church has faced a decline in membership since. The movie Spotlight brought the large-scale scandal to Hollywood, portraying the demise of the Church’s reputation. Since the exposure of the scandal, the Catholic Church has had a loosening grip on Ireland.
There is now great hope for the future. The repeal of the 8th Amendment may well lead the way for further liberalisation and equality for women. There is clearly a younger generation in Ireland who seem determined to bring progress. The result of Friday’s referendum shows a clear difference between Ireland’s urban and rural communities. It is the power of these urban communities which bring the promise for Ireland to lose its conservative image and embrace a liberal future.