On May 25, there will be a referendum on removing the Eighth Amendment from the Irish Constitution. You’ve almost certainly heard about it at this point. Maybe you’re still on the fence. So, here are answers to some common questions.
Let’s get the basics clear first. If the referendum passes, the Eighth Amendment will be removed and new wording will be inserted. This will enable the Oireachtas to make laws for the termination of pregnancy in Ireland, allowing women to access abortion. We won’t be asked to vote on proposed legislation. The referendum will only be on removing the Eighth. If it passes, then legislation will afterwards be proposed and passed by the Oireachtas in the way that this sort of thing is usually done. This means that abortion will be regulated in the same way as all other essential healthcare.
If the electorate votes Yes, a few things will happen. Access to abortion will be limited by time and medical circumstances. For example, someone would be able to have an abortion if there was a risk to their mental or physical health, if there was a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality (i.e., the foetus would probably die before or during birth and would certainly survive no longer than three hours), or within 12 weeks for their own personal reasons. Abortion would not be provided in cases of non-fatal foetal abnormality. Further, new measures would be introduced on sex education and provision of contraception. In the event of a Yes, all abortion access in the country would be medically regulated. Normal ethical guidelines and standards would apply.
Here’s a key point: who should decide whether to terminate a pregnancy? The constitution? Or the pregnant person in consultation with her doctor? As matters stand, it’s up to the constitution. If we vote No, then nothing will change and it will stay in the hands of the constitution. If we vote Yes, then a pregnant person will be able to make a personal choice about their health in consultation with their doctor.
During pregnancy, the pregnant person will have the same rights and treatment options as at other times. The Oireachtas will have the ability to make laws allowing people to access abortion care in this country with the care of their medical team.
By now, you should have a complete picture of what we’re voting on. But, you might not be convinced that you should vote Yes yet.
Consider this: abortion is only legal in Ireland right now if it’s to save the pregnant person’s life. So, there’s no access allowed if you’ve been raped, for example. The only way we can broaden the grounds on which we can access abortion here is if we first pass this referendum. A change to the current legislation is needed so that anyone who ever finds themselves pregnant can make personal choices about their lives and health without having to hop on a plane or a boat to England, without fear of being arrested and put in jail for years.
Further, we want everyone to be able to access necessary healthcare here at home. The 13th Amendment to the constitution allows people to travel abroad for abortion care where that was previously illegal. That 1992 referendum passed by 62%. So, Ireland doesn’t have a genuine problem with abortion; it just has a problem with abortion being accessible here. This is incoherent. The UN recognises this as forcing people to travel abroad for healthcare and has condemned it as a form of torture. The abortion ban also forces people to risk prosecution and 14 years in jail by ordering safe, but illegal, abortion pills online. More than 3,000 people per year – that’s at least nine per day – travel from Ireland to the UK for abortion access. The return journey is dangerous as travelling after any medical procedure increases risks.
As mentioned above, nobody in Ireland can access an abortion on the grounds that their pregnancy is the result of rape. As a country, we need to allow people the option of abortion in that circumstance. To ensure that people can access the healthcare they need without being traumatised further, we need to remove the Eighth Amendment and allow access to abortion during the first 12 weeks without obliging them to give a specific reason. Any crisis deserves compassion. One of the Together for Yes slogans is ‘for compassion in a crisis.’
With this information, you can hopefully understand that the only compassionate action on May 25 is a Yes vote. If you want to get involved in campaigning for that Yes result, get in contact with your county’s Together for Yes group through Twitter or Facebook. It’s certainly not too late to help; most campaigns only ramp into gear in the last two weeks. It’s crunch time now; do what you can.
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