Words: Eva O’Beirne
Despite the decades-long struggle for bodily autonomy, many counties across Ireland still do not have access to abortion care and many women still have to travel to receive this healthcare.
In 2018, Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, paving the way for the legalisation of abortion in some circumstances. The country voted by 66.4 per cent to 33.6 per cent to remove the amendment with more than two million votes cast.
With over 1.5 million voters, the turnout was one of the highest ever recorded for a referendum in this country and the highest of any referendum since 1992.
On 20 December 2018, President Michael D. Higgins signed the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, which legalised abortion into law.
Three years on, campaigners have highlighted the failures of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, pointing out its limited coverage across the country, the restrictive terms of the legislation, and rigid interpretation of the law as issues.
On average, one person a day is still travelling from Ireland to the UK and elsewhere due to obstacles to accessing abortion in Ireland. Just under half of maternity hospitals and up to one in ten GPs do not still do not offer abortion services.
Groups such as Together for Yes and National Women’s Council of Ireland say that legislation to create safe zones around healthcare facilities is urgently required as GPs are reluctant to provide abortion services due to picketing fears.
However, in November it was announced that the Government has scrapped promised laws to introduce safe access zones outside maternity hospitals and clinics providing abortion services.
Just last week, a bill proposed by Rural Independent TDs to require pain relief for a foetus during later abortions was rejected by the Dáil. Supported by leader of Aontú, Peadar Tóibín and the Healy-Raes, the proposed legislation was condemned by Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, who said the proposed legislation was “upsetting for the women and families who have had later abortions and insulting to our healthcare practitioners”.
This bill also highlights the lack of care for women’s reproductive healthcare in the Dáil, as currently the vast majority of IUDs are fitted without pain relief. More than 30,000 women were on waiting lists for gynaecological appointments in Irish hospitals at the start of 2021.
The legacy of the Repeal the 8th campaign has been documented in ‘The 8th’, a documentary-film focusing on the two sides of the referendum. Directed by Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O’Boyle, you can stream it here.
A new book recording the four-decade-long struggle for reproductive rights, ‘Repealed’ by Camilla Fitzsimmons and Sinéad Kennedy was also released in November. It tells the story of the ‘Repeal’ campaign through the lens of the activists who are still fighting in a movement that is only just beginning. You can pick up a copy here.
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