Ireland takes major step forward in path to legal abortion


Irish citizens will vote in May on whether to overturn a broad constitutional ban on abortion, lawmakers decided Monday.

The ballot referendum, which Cabinet ministers unanimously voted to allow, will ask people whether they want to strike down the Eighth Amendment, a 1983 addition to Ireland’s Constitution that gave fetuses equal rights to people. It is one of the strictest abortion bans in the world and allows for the procedure only in pregnancies that threaten the mother’s life. 

In place of the amendment, the Irish legislature would take over the responsibility to craft laws on women’s reproductive rights.

The exact wording of the amendment is still being worked out, the BBC noted, but last year a cross-party parliamentary committee recommended legalizing unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar also agreed last weekend that the current ban needs to be liberalized.

Varadkar, speaking to reporters after Monday’s vote, said the ban has been ineffective.

“We already have abortion ― unsafe, unregulated, unlawful. We cannot continue to export our problem and import our solution,” he said, according to CNN. “I know this will be a difficult decision for the Irish people to make. For most of us, it is not a black-and-white issue ― it is very gray.”

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Protests for and against abortion legality in Ireland
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Protests for and against abortion legality in Ireland
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 14: Protestors take part in the Rally for Choice march on October 14, 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The pro choice marchers are demanding equal abortion rights with the rest of the United Kingdom and changes to the current law in Northern Ireland that sees abortions only available in fatal foetal abnormality cases. Abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom. In 2016 a 21 year old woman from the province was given a suspended sentence at Belfast Crown Court after buying drugs on the internet to induce a miscarriage. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Demonstrators march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Demonstrators hold posters as they march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Demonstrators hold posters as they march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Demonstrators hold posters as they march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Demonstrators hold posters as they march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Demonstrators hold posters as they march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Demonstrators march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Demonstrators march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Demonstrators take part in a protest to urge the Irish Government to repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution, which enforces strict limitations to a woman's right to an abortion, in Dublin, Ireland September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Demonstrators take part in a protest to urge the Irish Government to repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution, which enforces strict limitations to a woman's right to an abortion, in Dublin, Ireland September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
An anti-abortion protester attempts to interrupt a demonstration urging the Irish Government to repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution, which enforces strict limitations to a woman's right to an abortion in Dublin, Ireland September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
An anti-abortion activist demonstrates outside the the Supreme Court in central London on October 24, 2017 where a case on the abortion regime in Northern Ireland is being heard. Abortion in Northern Ireland is illegal in all cases except when the life of the mother is in danger. The case, which has been brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, is arguing that abortion should be legal in the cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and where the foetus is seriously malformed or would not survive the birth. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-abortion activists demonstrate outside the the Supreme Court in central London on October 24, 2017 where a case on the abortion regime in Northern Ireland is being heard. Abortion in Northern Ireland is illegal in all cases except when the life of the mother is in danger. The case, which has been brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, is arguing that abortion should be legal in the cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and where the foetus is seriously malformed or would not survive the birth. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 24: Pro-life supporters hold anti-abortion placards as the UK Supreme Court begins to hear challenge to Northern Ireland abortion laws on October 24, 2017 in London, England. The case will consider whether Northern Ireland law breaches womens rights by not allowing abortions in cases of sexual crime and fatal foetal abnormalities. PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 14: Protestors take part in the Rally for Choice march on October 14, 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The pro choice marchers are demanding equal abortion rights with the rest of the United Kingdom and changes to the current law in Northern Ireland that sees abortions only available in fatal foetal abnormality cases. Abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom. In 2016 a 21 year old woman from the province was given a suspended sentence at Belfast Crown Court after buying drugs on the internet to induce a miscarriage. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
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Irish abortion rights activists estimate that each day 10 Irish women on average travel to the United Kingdom for legal abortion services. From 2010 to 2012, there were 1,642 abortion pill packages sent to Ireland, other reports show. 

The great lengths Irish women must go to seek out safe and legal abortions are time-consuming, expensive and emotionally taxing, women involved in the country’s abortion rights activism told HuffPost last year.

Abortion rights activists celebrated Monday’s announcement, but they remain cautiously optimistic.

The organization RepealEight urged the cabinet to set a firm date for the vote in May. 

Linda Kavanagh, president of the Abortion Rights Campaign, urged supporters to closely examine the final wording in the referendum.

“Generations of people have fought too long and too hard for change in our abortion laws, and we will not accept any fudges or half-measures,” she said in a statement. “Modern, accessible and compassionate abortion care must be a guaranteed outcome of the referendum passing ― that is non-negotiable.”

Tensions over the strict ban came to a head last March when thousands of women went on strike to urge a repeal of the amendment in honor of International Women’s Day. More than 4,000 protesters gathered at Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge and shut down multiple thoroughfares. Sister strikes took place in other Irish cities. 

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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