May resists calls from Tory colleagues to reform N Ireland's abortion laws

Charlene Craig
May 28, 2018

History was made in Ireland on Friday, after the 66.4 percent voted to repeal the country's eighth amendment which put a ban on women's right to have an abortion.

FILE PHOTO: People celebrate the result of yesterday's referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. Several voters supported the change by two-to-one, a margin considered far higher than any opinion poll in the run up to the vote had predicted, in the once deeply Catholic nation.

Activists in Ireland are calling for the country's new pro-choice law to be named after Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist whose death in 2012 galvanised the 'Yes' campaign and who became the face of the movement ahead of Friday's historic referendum.

Since 1983, the now-repealed Eighth Amendment had forced women seeking to terminate pregnancies to go overseas for abortions, bear children conceived through rape or incest, or take illegal measures at home.

"We have always opposed "abortion on demand" but have recognised that exceptional cases such as rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities may give rise to termination, and we would wish to see these provided for in the new legislation".

"What we see is the culmination of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in Ireland over the last couple of decades", said Mr Varadkar, who became Ireland's first openly gay Prime Minister a year ago. "I think what we've seen today, really, a combination of a quiet revolution that's been taking place in Ireland for the past 10-20 years".

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The decision would seek to take some of the pressure off families between now and new legislation overturning the ban, which is expected to pass by the end of the year.

"For me it is also the day when we said "No More". It outlawed all abortions until 2014, when the procedure started being allowed in rare cases when a woman's life was in danger.

Celebrities who had campaigned for liberalisation were victorious.

The vote pitted conservative backers of strict abortion laws against those supporting a woman's right to choose.

Many gathered at the Savita Halappanavar mural as the results of the vote were counted.

The shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, said abortion reforms that brought the rights of women in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom were "a test" of the prime minister's feminism.

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She said the church had in recent weeks taken a "quiet" stand against repeal, but hadn't been able to sway people.

"Poll after poll has shown in the north, much like it did in the south, that between 62-72% people in every one of the polls is in favour of a change to the law", she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said he believed a middle ground of around 40 percent of voters had decided en masse to allow women and doctors rather than lawmakers and lawyers to decide whether a termination was justified.

Mrs Halappanvar's death in 2012 helped to spark passionate calls to reform abortion law in Ireland.

She said members of online communities such as "Abroad for Yes" set up "amazing support systems", with people quickly chipping in to buy tickets for would-be voters who couldn't afford the trip home.

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