Ireland upholds one of the most restrictive abortion doctrines in the world. The 8th amendment to the Irish constitution, which grants an unborn fetus and its mother an equal right to life, compels thousands of pregnant women to travel to other countries for abortions and reproductive health care every year.
Yet Ireland’s regressive policy on abortion could change as early as next year. On the heels of a referendum that legalized gay marriage in 2015, Ireland’s government has proposed another progressive referendum—one that could abolish or revise the 8th amendment. The vote will likely take place in May or June of 2018.
This progress is thanks to activists involved with “Repeal the Eighth,” a coalition that has been actively protesting the amendment since 2012. The movement formed after an Irish woman died due to tragically preventable complications during childbirth—a cause of death that is common across the globe.
Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year old woman whose pregnancy became compromised at 17 weeks, died of sepsis in a Galway hospital in 2012. Upon learning that there was no way her baby would survive, Halappanavar asked doctors to perform an abortion for the sake of her own health. The hospital staff refused, as it would have been illegal to terminate a pregnancy while the fetus still had a heartbeat. Halappanavar died needlessly of sepsis as a result.
In addition to the Repeal the Eighth movement, the amendment has received repeated criticism by the UN Human Rights Committee, which described it as “cruel, inhumane, and degrading.”
Ireland and the U.S. have a lot in common—both have histories of strong religious influence correlated with regressive legislation relating to gender and reproductive rights. We can learn a lot from the activism, both global and domestic, that led to this referendum.