IRELAND –Voters in the Republic of Ireland came out in force this week to roll back the clock to 1983 – a time before abortions were effectively banned in this heavily Roman Catholic country. The “once in a generation vote,” as it was framed by prime minister Leo Varadkar, brought out people across the age spectrum to support the repeal; the movement even garnered the support of Brigid.Article 40.3.3 of the Irish constitution establishes “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother,” calls for that right to life to be vigorously defended. Under the language approved by voters with a two-to-one margin, the article now reads, “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.”
It will fall to legislators to decide what new laws to that end actually get passed.
Varadkar and legislators in favor of loosening the restrictions plan on seeking to allow medically-supervised abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy; that’s half the time that’s permitted in Britain. In Northern Ireland abortion is only allowed to save the life of the mother, and activists are planning on trying to change that fact next.
Under the present scheme, most women seeking to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland leave the country to get a doctor to perform the procedure. The only softening to the constitutional language has been to keep that travel, and information about abortion outside the country, as legal in and of itself. According to a Guardian article published in March, “Since 1983, an estimated 170,000 women have left Ireland to have terminations, and up to 2,000 women each year illegally take the abortion pill, accessed online.”
Efforts to make this change date back decades. The present push was slowed by a court decision in which it was held that the unborn had constitutional rights beyond the “right to life” specifically stipulated. Supreme court justices reversed that decision in March.
The abortion vote comes three years after same-sex marriage was legalized in Ireland; both of these changes are evidence that traditional Roman Catholic teachings are not holding nearly as much sway over the Irish as they did in the 20th century.
Brigid was introduced into the repeal campaign because stories associated with the goddess-cum-saint show her as not only a protector of children, but also as a provider of at least one abortion. In a video tying her to support of repeal, it’s said that Brigid’s “cross” with the current state of affairs.
Whether or not Brigid has skin in the game, Irish women and allies are celebrating this change, and readying for the push to pass laws favoring the right to self-determination regarding pregnancy termination.