Irish Government will hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment this year

Camila Moret

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Irish flag (orange, white and green)
Irish Tricolour by AlmazUK/Flickr

It is believed that 12 women in Ireland have an abortion every day. Some fly to places such as UK or Spain where abortion is legalized and regulated, others find illegal methods within Irish lands, such as buying pills online to induce a miscarriage. Depending on their financial situation, some women could even submit themselves to more dangerous ways to terminate the pregnancy, putting their own life at risk. If found, women who had an abortion in Irish land could face jail time together with whoever assisted them.

One year ago, Ana*, a student living in Ireland, found out she was pregnant. “Me and my boyfriend were together for less than a year. Having a kid is no playtime, how do you put a child into this world when you can barely afford rent?”. She then reached out to an all-women facebook group in order to find more information about her options here. She had great responses about clinics in Ireland that provide all the necessary information and support needed, sometimes even with free consults with the medical team. She and her boyfriend went to a clinic in Dublin to seek help and had a consult with a psychologist to talk about the pregnancy.

Further this year, Ireland will hold a referendum to vote on abortion restricted laws in the country. This will give Irish population the power to decide whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment. This amendment was voted into the constitution in 1983 and points that a pregnancy could only be terminated in case of presenting a severe risk to the woman’s life. In its roots, the amendment wants to protect the life of a fetus as much as the mother’s well being and present jail time as a suitable punishment for those who disobey (the maximum time is 14 years in prison).

This regulation suffered a lot of backlashes back in 2012 following the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian woman living in Ireland. Savita had a miscarriage caused by sepsis and requested an abortion to remove the fetus, but the medical team denied it, not believing her life was in danger. By the time the doctors decided her life was at real risk, her sepsis got worse and she had a fatal cardiac arrest. Her death was followed by multiple manifestations against the way the situation was handled. People believed that the medical team feared to authorize the abortion in case it was proven the patient’s life was not in danger, which could send the physicians to jail under the 8th Amendment.

The referendum is historical because it could broaden the aspects of a legal abortion. Today, a woman that had suffered sexual violence is obliged to continue the pregnancy. Also, if the fetus presents fatal abnormalities, the woman would still have to carry the pregnancy through the end. If Ireland vote in favour to repeal the Eighth, women will get to decide if they desire to terminate an unwanted pregnancy (up to 12 weeks maximum). As of now, Ireland has two major sides about the referendum – “Save the 8th” and “Repeal the 8th”. Both groups have discussions and events open to public participation. Also, both sides campaign around the city in order to make the population aware of the voting and its implications.

Those who stand by “Repeal the 8th” manifestations argue that legalizing abortion would be a way to prevent deaths caused by unsafe terminations and respect individual cases such as when the woman was sexually abused. While people who argue for “Save the 8th” have the argument that the fetus is already a life and terminating this life would be just like killing a human being. “Each one of us campaigns for what we believe and, thank God, everyone is free to express their minds.” Ana believes.

According to The Center for Reproductive Rights website, abortion is legalized with no restrictions and regularized in 74 countries worldwide. Ana chose to go to Barcelona, where abortion is legal, “You can choose the method you prefer – I chose suction with anaesthesia. The whole procedure takes about 5 minutes”. When she returned to Dublin, she had a free follow-up medical consult in the clinic, two weeks after the procedure. Ana believes there is a lot of free help in Ireland for women in the same situation – even though it is against the law to make the procedure in Ireland, there is no legal implication in making information available to whoever needs it.

A lot of this discussion might come from Ireland’s intrinsic relationship with Catholicism – “it could be because of the religion here, it is so deeply rooted in the culture. But how can you change their minds? It is their right not to want public money on this”, Ana states. According to a survey made in 2016 by the Irish Census, more than 75% of the population identifies as Roman Catholics. Despite the percentage is high, the number is actually dropping – 2016’s results show a decrease of 3.4% according to the same survey made in 2011. The result of the referendum could also show a distancing between political laws and very strict moral and religious beliefs – which was already seen in 2015, when Ireland approved same-sex marriages in the country.

As this is a matter of discussion that started over 20 years ago with the implementation of the Eighth Amendment, abortion is still a controversial and delicate issue in Irish society. The referendum is supposed to take place in May or June. Either way, the referendum is already a mark in Irish history, being the first time population is legally heard on this matter.

Going through this experience is tough, but it is much better when the people around you are open-minded about this


*Fiction name to preserve the interviee’s privacy

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Camila Moret

Brazilian filmmaker and photographer, Camila Moret moved to Ireland over a year ago to live new experiences. She is currently doing a Masters in Journalism and Media Communications at Griffith College, Dublin.