Britain's May refuses to relax Northern Ireland abortion rules

28 May, 2018, 17:12 | Author: Orlando Hughes
  • Anti-abortion activists conceded defeat early on Saturday and lawmakers who campaigned for a ‘No’ vote said they would not seek to block the government’s legislation

Friday's vote repealed the Eighth Amendment to Ireland's Constitution, which was added in 1983 and granted equal rights to unborn fetuses and amounted to an nearly complete ban on abortions.

Ireland's parliament will now be tasked with coming up with new abortion laws, and that's where opponents of repeal said they would take their fight following the referendum result.

Savita, an Indian dentist living in Galway who died from a septic miscarriage after being refused an abortion in 2012, was seen by many as an important catalyst for change and hopefully one of the last tragedies of the Eighth.

For decades, the law forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations and "Yes" campaigners argued that with others now ordering pills illegally online, abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

Lawmakers will now move to allow women to get abortions in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Prime Minster Leo Varadkar, whose election in June 2017 was also hailed as a sign of major social change in Ireland, called the Yes vote a "quiet revolution". A quiet revolution has taken place, and a great act of democracy. He now expects new abortion legislation to come into effect by the end of the year. "I'm especially grateful to the women of Ireland who came forward to provide their personal testimony about the hard times that they endured, the stress and the trauma that they experienced because of the eighth amendment". The 1983 law banned all abortions except when a mother's life was at risk.

The campaign was defined by women publicly sharing their painful experiences of leaving the country for procedures, a key reason why all but one of Ireland's 40 constituencies voted "Yes".

Ireland referendum could lift abortion ban
With a turnout of 53 per cent which amounted to 1.2 million people, almost 67 per cent voted Yes and over 33 per cent voted No. Since 2013, terminations have only been allowed in Ireland when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide.

Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary, said he would back reform of Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws in a free vote but did not promise Labour would bring a bill before the Commons if the party was in charge.

"What happened in the referendum vote was seismic, but more seismic still was the realisation that this vote was reflecting change, not just instigating it". Many traveled overseas to undergo the procedure, and others bought pills online.

"Wonderful, wonderful, today is wonderful!" said 65-year-old Eileen Shields, who had been ostracised for falling pregnant outside of marriage when she was 18. She died on October 28 and her dead resulted in a massive uproar - nationally as well as internationally and it led to a movement to repeal the eighth amendment which prohibited abortion.

But DUP MP Ian Paisley insisted Northern Ireland "should not be bullied into accepting abortion on demand".

"The polls suggest all generations voted with us", Catherine Conlon, a Trinity College professor told ABC News, after exit polls showed overwhelming support for repeal of the amendment.

The people have spoken, they have spoken very loudly and we now need to see this legislation happen quickly because as we know today, as we are here, there are women who are planning their journeys and who are having to travel to access abortion outside of Ireland'.

On Saturday, the UK's Women and Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt said the predicted landslide vote gave "hope" to Northern Ireland.



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