A spectacular achievement for women and reproductive rights
When exit polls released at 10pm last night predicted a landslide victory for the ‘Yes’ vote by 68 per cent to 31 per cent, #Repealthe8th campaigners and feminists all over the world erupted in elation as Ireland was on the brink of a historic and emphatic victory for women’s rights.
Now, as the final votes are counted, a victory is being celebrated. The stunning win will see the 8th amendment repealed, and Irish women have finally won the right to abortion in their own country.
The victory marks the result of generations of feminist activism in Ireland and an incredibly hard fought campaign that sought to give women a basic human right; agency over their own bodies.
The 8th amendment came into effect in 1983 after pro-life activists feared that the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 – the law preventing abortion at the time – might be changed. As a result, the same rights were given to the unborn as to the mother, effectively banning abortion of any kind.
But change, and justice, is finally here. In the morning, before votes were officially tallied, the anti-abortion “Save The 8th campaign” had already conceded defeat. John McGuirk, the spokesman for the campaign has said that “'There is no prospect of the legislation not being passed.”
The proposed legislation will allow abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to the 24th week in exceptional circumstances.
The final figures were 66.4 per cent in favour of repeal, and 33.6 per cent voting no.
Memorial in central Dublin for Savita Halappanavar, whose death after she was denied an abortion in 2012 galvanised the Repeal movement.— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) May 25, 2018
Surrounded by flowers and candles today. People nearby were shaking and overwhelmed to hear of exit poll predicting a Yes victory#repealthe8thpic.twitter.com/10Jt1tTnnD
Tara Flynn, an Irish actor and writer who was at the forefront of the ‘Yes’ campaign has said of the result that it “means freedom, it means equality, but it also means for women like me, I had to travel for an abortion in 2006, it means for women like me that we’ll be able to get care here in Ireland, and that is so significant. To not feel exiled or shunned, it’s just a very significant day.”
She went on to say that, despite the result, there are still cultural changes that need to take place before women who choose to have an abortion can feel fully accepted in Irish society. “I think that the shame piece is something that Ireland has to deal with on so many levels. Mental health, all kinds of stigma exists and shame around those issues. We need to talk about that. That will be the next part of the healing process I think.”
The last week of campaigning saw an incredible push from the #Hometovote movement, which encouraged Irish citizens on the electoral register to travel back to Ireland to help repeal the 8th. In an extraordinary display of comradery and togetherness, vast sums of money were being raised very quickly to pay for flights to Ireland for those unable to afford it so they could vote.
The referendum was triggered largely because of a growing sense of injustice for the grim realities of Irish women in need of abortion. But the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 – who died as a result of complications from a miscarriage after she was refused abortion – acted as a catalyst for making yesterday’s historic vote a reality.
With this result, won by an astonishing margin, Irish women will finally be able to get an abortion in their own country, legally, for the first time in history.
However, every day, three northern Irish women are still forced to travel elsewhere for termination or seek illegal abortion pills online. This is the next step. Campaigning can’t stop until all women everywhere have access to the same basic rights.
Catch up on our series Ireland Unfree, which chronicled the movement for repeal, here.