My body, My choice—finally as it should be!

Ireland votes for change and women’s rights on their bodies.

It took the sad death of an Indian origin mother to rally votes in favour of a new law on abortion in Ireland. Six years ago Savita Halappanavar died after being denied a medical termination of pregnancy in 2012, despite clear indications that she will never be able to deliver a live baby. The denial cost Savita her life, she died after doctors removed her still born foetus, sending women in Ireland and across the world protesting the law in Ireland that denied women a choice over their body.

That is no longer the case as Ireland voted this week in favour of a new law on abortion, giving women a choice on decisions taken on their body. Savita Law—is what campaigners, rallying in favour of abortion reform in Ireland, have asked the new abortion law to be named as a tribute to Savita Halappanavar. Her father,  Andanappa Yalagi , has also called for the legislation that will follow the historic referendum result to be referred to as “Savita’s law”. “We have one last request, that the new law, that it is called ‘Savita’s law’ he said in an interview to The Irish Times.

At a press conference in Dublin on Sunday, Together for Yes, an umbrella group representing pro-repeal organizations, said it would support such a move. It also called on the government to start immediate work on legislation. “The people have spoken,” said its co-chair Orla O’Connor.

Turnout at the Friday referendum was clear. As the landslide win indicated, it was a time for change as Irish men and women flew home to vote in favour of the new law. The Republic of Ireland has voted overwhelmingly to overturn the abortion ban by 66.4% to 33.6%. Under the old law abortion was only allowed when a woman’s life is at risk, but not in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

The Eighth Amendment, which granted equal right to life to the mother and unborn, will now be replaced. The historic declaration was made at Dublin Castle at 18:13 local time on Friday and was met with thunderous cheers from the rallyists in favour of repeal. The only constituency to vote against repealing the Eighth amendment was Donegal, with 51.9% voting against the change.

The historic win, however, was not without its naysayers. Anti-abortion supporters raged “murder” across social media and wept openly, the change in store being too much for them to acclimatize to. The Save The 8th campaign described the result as a “tragedy of historic proportions”.

“The unborn child no longer has a right to life recognized by the Irish state,” said its spokesman John McGuirk.

However, he vowed that No campaigners would continue to protest, “if and when abortion clinics are opened in Ireland”.

A vote in favour paves the way for the Dáil (Irish Parliament) to legislate for change which would see the introduction of a much more liberal regime. It also represents another sign of the societal change that has taken place in the Republic, coming just three years after the country officially passed the same sex marriage referendum with 62% in favour.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar

The address of the Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach (pronounced Thhee-Shuck) Leo Varadkar, who campaigned in favour of liberalization, is an indication of the winds of change that are blowing across the Emerald Isle. Varadkar said it was “a historic day for Ireland,” and that a “quiet revolution” had taken place. Mr. Varadkar told crowds at Dublin Castle the result showed the Irish public “trust and respect women to make their own decision and choices.”

He added: “It’s also a day when we say no more. No more to doctors telling their patients there’s nothing can be done for them in their own country, no more lonely journeys across the Irish Sea, no more stigma as the veil of secrecy is lifted and no more isolation as the burden of shame is gone.”

He said that some had voted yes with “pride”, but many had voted yes with “sorrowful acceptance and heavy hearts”. Mr. Varadkar said he understood that those who had voted against repeal would be unhappy. He said he had a message for them: “I know today is not welcome and you may feel this country has taken the wrong turn, that this country is one you no longer recognize.

“I want to reassure you that Ireland today is the same as it was last week, but more tolerant, open and respectful.”

To quote Varadkar, “Ireland voted to look reality in the eye and did not blink. It chooses to provide companionship where there was once a cold shoulder and medical care where we once turned a blind eye.”

The new abortion law will be enacted by the end of this year.

For a country governed by strict norms influenced strongly by the Catholic Church,  it’s a major step towards change and a shot in the arm for women’s rights. In three months’ time, Pope Francis will travel to Ireland and find a country undoing part of the legacy of a previous papal visit. In 1983, four years after the triumphal visit of Pope John Paul II, the Irish people put the Eighth Amendment into their Constitution.

Reactions to the Vote:

The leader of the main Irish opposition party, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil, said the vote was the “dawn of a new era”.

He said he had wrestled with the issue, but added the people had made the right decision and it would mean better care for women in Irish hospitals. Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, whose party campaigned in favour of a Yes vote, said: “We have without doubt done right by Irish women for this generation and many to come.”

Amnesty International hailed the result as a “momentous win for women’s rights” that “marks the beginning of a new Ireland”.

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International UK said the people of Ireland have “given hope to women around the world”. But she added Northern Ireland is still subject to restrictive abortion laws.

“It’s hypocritical, degrading and insulting to Northern Irish women that we are forced to travel for vital healthcare services but cannot access them at home,” Ms Teggart said.

“We cannot be left behind in a corner of the UK and on the island of Ireland as second-class citizens.”

Former Northern Ireland health minister Jim Wells said the expected result was a “grave threat” to the unborn child in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Wells, a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician, claimed it was “inevitable” that abortion clinics would be set up in border towns to “promote their services to Northern Ireland women. “It will be much easier to terminate a child’s life if this can be done at a clinic in Dundalk or Letterkenny rather than flying to London or Manchester,” he added.


Shirin Abbas

Dr. Shirin Abbas is the Bureau Chief "TheIndiaObserver.Com". She is a world-renowned journalist, winner of several national and international awards for her contribution to Media Research.The first recipient of the prestigious British Chevening Scholarship for Print Journalism in 1999 from her state of Uttar Pradesh. Under the same, she studied at the School of Media, Communication, and Design at the University Of Westminster, London and interned with The Irish Times, Dublin. She has been a journalist for over three decades, working at several national English dailies in North India. She completed her PhD. in Mass Communication in 2016.

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