Gender and Development

Ireland’s Abortion Referendum And Its Global Implications

On May 25, 2018, Ireland votes on a referendum to repeal the 1983 8th constitutional amendment outlawing abortions. Katie Dobosz Kenney examines the implications of the referendum both in Ireland and abroad.


Ireland will conduct a historic referendum on May 25, 2018 to repeal or uphold the 1983 8th constitutional amendment that puts the life of the mother and fetus on equal footing thereby outlawing abortion in almost every circumstance. In Ireland, a woman can face up to 14 years in prison for undergoing the procedure and since 1980 over 170,000 Irish women have left the country to terminate pregnancies legally in other countries like the UK and the Netherlands. Ireland is currently among nations with the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, many of which are predominantly and historically Catholic, and most of which are located in the global south. Though Ireland has legalized other typically Catholic hardline issues like birth control, divorce, and gay marriage, the topic of abortion has left Ireland extremely divided regardless of age, sex, or religious affiliation.

Irish citizens from all walks of life have taken to campaigning in the streets and on social media where hashtags such as #hometovote, #repealthe8th, and #savethe8th are trending. On social media, the support to repeal seems to far outweigh those who wish to save the amendment, but a poll conducted by the Irish Times and Ipsos MRBI in 2016 revealed the gap may not be that wide. The poll showed that 67% of Irish voters support abortion in some cases (be it rape, health of mother and child, or by choice). Forward progression of the abortion conversation at the national and legal level are stunted by the amendment which essentially makes no exception for termination of pregnancy aside from “near death” of the mother.

Despite the institution of the Catholic Church not being a primary focus of this referendum, the issue of abortion evokes strong emotion all over the globe. Abortion remains for many an issue of values and morals, which for better or worse, are intrinsically linked to religious values and shape how communities view women and their relationship to sex and reproductive rights. In the case of Ireland, it is Catholic teaching that may, even subconsciously, impact this viewpoint.

Specifically in the Catholic Church, catechesis classifies sex out of wedlock, masturbation, and rape in the same category: as an offense against chastity. Abortion, like intentional homicide, is a violation of the respect for human life. These rules impact women and the conversation around their bodies and rights to termination services almost exclusively. Women are either placed at intersection of a choice that may contradict their personal feelings and their faith, or public policies inspired by religious ideals to which they may not adhere. Both are often met with stigma and shame.

Even with a decline in mass attendance and move away from more traditional Catholic values, the majority of the Irish population still identifies as Catholic, with 90% of Irish secondary schools under the purview of the Catholic Church.The Catholic Church has urged a vote of no, and organizations like the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal organization have mobilized against the repeal as well.

This vote not only impacts the women of Ireland, but women across the globe, particularly in developing nations whose government may follow the example of a deeply historic Catholic nation. Each year up to 13% of maternal deaths can be linked to unsafe abortions, 25 million of which are performed in developing nations, as a result of restrictive laws. The Catholic Church’s catechism defines issues of reproductive health in ways that are not conducive to the local, regional, or international peace and security of women.

With the Trump administration attempting to defund Planned Parenthood and ban doctors in federally funded clinics to share information about termination options and the Irish referendum set to take place tomorrow, women’s control of their reproductive health is in serious jeopardy. Tomorrow could be a step in the direction of personal choice and empowerment that women, all over the world, so desperately deserve.

Katie Dobosz Kenney holds an MS in Global Affairs from New York University with a concentration in Peacebuilding. An educator for almost 10 years, Katie had developed global and peace education curricula in Florida, Mississippi, and Timor-Leste. Katie currently works as a graduate program administrator at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and has co-led study abroad programs to South Africa and the UAE.

Photo Credit: CNN

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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