Repeal the 8th: Ireland's historic referendum & 'a quiet revolution'

Ireland’s historic referendum & ‘a quiet revolution’ that cannot be underestimated

Ireland has done it. In a referendum held on Friday 66.4% of voters opted to repeal the 8th Amendment which effectively bans abortion in almost every instance.

It amounts to a landslide on a sensitive and divisive subject in a deeply Catholic country. Ireland was once viewed as among the most conservative nations in the world with good cause: it only legalised divorce in 1995.

But it seems the people of Ireland are no longer so wedded to tradition and are instead inclined towards change.

In May of 2015 the Irish people voted to legalise same-sex marriage, the first time a popular vote delivered this change.

Now, in 2018 the people of Ireland have cast their votes overwhelmingly in favour of  overturning some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. As it stands in Ireland  women are prohibited from aborting pregnancies unless their lives are at risk — even in the cases of incest, rape, and fatal fetal abnormality.

The Irish Government plans legislate by the end of the year which will mean, for the first time in history, the women of Ireland will not have to travel to access abortions.

They will no longer need to import abortion pills illegally, without access to medical care or support.

The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the result represents a “once in a generation vote”.

“The people have spoken. They have said we need a modern constitution for a modern country,” he said. “What we’ve seen is the culmination of a quiet revolution that’s been taking place in Ireland over the past 20 years.”

He said Irish voters “trust and respect women to make the right choices and decisions about their own healthcare”: something that has not historically been afforded to women in Ireland.

Campaigners have been seeking to repeal the 8th Amendment for many many years. It was introduced after a 1983 referendum which means no-one under the age of 54 in Ireland had voted on this issue before.

It was thus rightly described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the people of Ireland to have their say on women’s reproductive rights and the people were clear.

In nearly every age group, men and women, across social classes voted to change the constitution.

Women and men from all around the world travelled back to Ireland for the vote and the #HomeToVote hashtag is testament to the intent and collective desire for change.

It has been described as a showing of the internet at its absolute best: inspiring and kind and it’s hard to disagree.

It is impossible to consider the result in Ireland without feeling moved and hopeful. The resounding victory is a reminder that history really is ripe for the making. It is a reminder that it’s possible for individual citizens to unite, to mobilise and to campaign to deliver change.

It has not been an easy road and it certainly hasn’t happened by accident. It is in no small part due to Together for Yes, a grassroots campaign group made up of over 70 organisations, groups and communities representing a diverse cross-section of Irish civil society.

To say it is overdue for the women of Ireland to have autonomy over their own bodies and healthcare is a gross understatement. Too many women have paid far too high a price for not having this right.

“The wrenching pain of decades of mistreatment of Irish women cannot be unlived,” Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.

It is true. The pain suffered by women in Ireland cannot be unlived or undone but because of the people of Ireland from 2018 on, this mistreatment is no longer inevitable. The women of Ireland are finally having their reproductive rights respected. Choice will now be delivered.

People power cannot be underestimated. Here in Australia that same people power is needed for the very same reason. We may not have Ireland’s history but the women of Australia still face too many hurdles in accessing abortions.

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