Ireland’s abortion referendum is revolutionary politics, whoever wins | Lizzie O’Shea

Photo of Ireland’s abortion referendum is revolutionary politics, whoever wins | Lizzie O’Shea
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Women’s reproductive rights have been ill-served by top-down politics. The campaign to repeal the eighth should inspire us all

No matter what happens in Ireland’s abortion referendum on Friday, the campaign should serve as an inspiration. For too long, women in Ireland and elsewhere have paid the price for the notion that abortion is electoral poison and no good will come of politicians campaigning on it.

The eighth amendment to the Irish constitution, introduced in 1983 and valuing the life of the mother and foetus equally, in effect prohibited lawmakers from regulating abortion. This law has had insidious and devastating consequences. In 1992 women were given the right to travel abroad to obtain an abortion, and about 170,000 women have, usually to England, effectively sweeping the issue under the carpet. In 2012 the case of Savita Halappanavar brought the issue back home. Seventeen weeks pregnant, she went to hospital in pain and began to miscarry. She was denied an abortion and later died of septicaemia. Partly as a result of this tragic case, the sense grew that this law had generated a crisis in women’s health, but there was little appetite to take the necessary steps to achieve reform.

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