Yesterday, in a landslide victory of 68% to 32%, Irish citizens voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the amendment that bans abortion and gives the unborn equal rights as citizens. “People today feel relief. We voted it’s done. People were at war with each other,” says Irish citizen and yes voter Rebecca Winkworth.
Scrolling through #HomeToVote on Twitter gives a small look into the significance of this vote. Women’s rights and health are serious issues. In countries where abortion is illegal, unsafe abortions happen at a rate four times higher than in countries where abortion is legal. It is a fact that countries with strict abortion bans have higher rates of abortion. Easy access to safe and reliable contraceptives and medical care drives down abortion rates as well.
The hashtag also brings to light many of the small legal complications around actually voting in this referendum. Irish citizens had to be registered to vote several weeks ago, they couldn’t register the day of the vote. Additionally, Irish citizens must vote in the local district where their home address is. For younger generations who may have been living abroad but kept their parent’s address, this isn’t simply a trip to Dublin and back. All over Ireland, people were driving, busing and training back to their hometowns to make the vote.
Though the atmosphere in Ireland may be reconciliatory, as Winkworth notes, a yes vote in the referendum does not necessarily mean that the Eighth Amendment will be repealed. A referendum is a popular vote but is not legally binding. The Irish government could choose to ignore the results of the referendum and not repeal the Eighth Amendment. There are several steps that need to happen next in order for the Eighth Amendment to be fully repealed and the ban on abortion in Ireland lifted.
First, a new set of guidelines must be written. The government has already drafted and proposed language. The Eighth Amendment would be replaced with language that says, “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.”
Next, the Irish parliament will have to adopt this new language. This is where the discretion of the government may not reflect the voters of Ireland. As a referendum is non-binding, there is no legal requirement for parliamentarians to repeal the Eighth Amendment and there will likely be many citizens as well as parliamentarians who are still divided on the issue.
This vote is about women’s health but also about equality and dignity in Ireland. “The whole campaign has been about distrust in women,” says Winkworth, which has been the age-old argument against abortion globally. In Ireland this was no exception. This argument hinges on the idea that women are not responsible enough to make decisions about their own bodies. This archaic argument has no place in the discussion about women’s rights in 2018. Over and over again, women globally are demanding equality and in Ireland, women demanded this equality in the right to make decisions about maternal health.
The No and the Yes campaigns in Ireland have both spoken about abortion from a moral, health, and rights perspective but at the end of the day as Winkworth says, “we’re not increasing abortions in Ireland, we’re just recognizing that it’s happening with compassion and dignity.”