The Abortion Referendum: Irish Prime Minister Will Campaign Against Abortion Ban

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar will campaign to repeal the ban on abortion in Ireland, as of Saturday morning January 27th, putting to rest the uncertainty of his position. A referendum will be held later this year on that topic, which has caused much controversy in the Catholic majority country.

The Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, introduced in 1983, recognizes the equal right to life of both the mother and her fetus, which has effectively meant a total ban on abortion even in circumstances where the pregnancy is a result of rape, incest or when there is a fatal fetal abnormality, yet this ban has not stopped Irish women from receiving abortions. According to the U.K. Department of Health, as of 2016 3,265 women living in the Republic of Ireland accessed abortion services in England and Wales, although this is not always an option for women living on a low income, as travel costs may be unaffordable. Therefore, the current ban leaves the most vulnerable women without any access to a safe and legal abortion procedure.

Irish politician Kate O’Connell has been very vocal on the abortion ban issue stating, “Irish women were quite literally enslaved in an act of church and State collusion that can be honestly characterized as nothing other than sexual apartheid.” She later added that “If you agree with abortion in certain circumstances it is not the abortion you have an issue with it is the type of sex women have…If abortion is only allowed in cases of rape not only will women have to endure horrific sexual assault but the onus will be on them to prove it.”

The Irish Prime Minister had not made his opinion clear on the upcoming referendum, stating last Thursday that he is waiting on his cabinet’s agreement on a position. However, in a Saturday morning interview on BBC Radio’s Today program, Leo Varadkar stated that he would indeed be campaigning against the abortion ban and highlighted how his beliefs had evolved since 2014, when he used to consider himself ‘pro-life’: “I think sometimes that term ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ can be misunderstood. You know, I think even people who are in favour of abortion in certain circumstances are pro-life…I still believe in life, but I understand that there are circumstances in which pregnancies can’t continue.” This nuanced opinion from the Prime Minister is what activists have long been pushing for, giving hope to those campaigning that the abortion ban will be removed from Ireland entirely after the referendum.

In Chile, another Catholic majority country, a total ban on abortion was lifted last August, making the procedure accessible in three cases: if the pregnancy is a result of rape, if the life of the pregnant woman is at risk or if the fetus will not survive. This was a huge success for Chile and has led to optimism for the rest of Latin America. This developing nation has proven to be more progressive than Ireland and has taken a step in proving itself to the international human rights community in supporting women’s rights and freedoms. Let’ hope that the results of this year’s referendum are victorious for women in Ireland and a step forward for this Catholic nation.