Together For Yes
Women’s rights and reproductive rights continue to be a target of political conservatives around the world. In many ways, women are treated as second class citizens in their own societies, and reproductive rights are often one of the key areas where women’s rights have been denied.
Historically, Ireland had one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in the world. A referendum in 1983 equated the life of an unborn foetus to the life of the pregnant woman, essentially meaning that terminating a pregnancy was akin to murder. This was enshrined in our constitution under the 8th amendment, influencing subsequent legislation and international treaties.
However, as with any country where abortion is illegal, abortion was still necessary and continued to happen. At that time, 9 women a day were traveling to the UK to access abortion, while many more were ordering abortion pills online, or engaging other methods to terminate their pregnancies in unsafe ways. Terminating a pregnancy unlawfully carried with it a prison sentence of up to 14 years and continues to be a criminal offence today.
One of the clearest and most affecting examples of the damage done by the restrictive laws is the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar. At 17 weeks pregnant, Ms Halappanavar’s pregnancy had become unviable and had begun to endanger her life. However, as a result of the ‘chilling effect’ of the 8th amendement and the hospital’s catholic ethos, her doctors did not allow what may have been a life-saving abortion. As a result Ms Halappanavar died of severe sepsis, E.coli in the bloodstream and miscarriage. Her death caused outcry among the public, who lamented the loss of life for the sake of a law that was not fit for purpose. She would become a powerful symbol of a national movement for women’s reproductive rights.
The death of Savita led to the formation of the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, an alliance of over 100 organisations including human rights, feminist and pro-choice organisations, trade unions, health organisations, NGOs, community organisations and many others working together to repeal the 8th amendment and allowing for abortion care in Ireland.
In preparation for a possible referendum, the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment approached Language to design research that would be later used in the campaign to encourage voters to vote ‘yes’ to repeal. We knew from public polling that there were two solid minorities; those supporting ‘choice’ and those against change. Polling consistently showed that there was a majority who favoured limited provision. Research would be key to understanding the reservations and conflicting views of this majority of Irish people who thought abortion should only be legal in certain circumstances. Globally, we find that conditional support for abortion is prevalent in most countries. This is why conventional pro-choice campaigns tend to alienate many voters.
In 2017 the UN Human Rights Committee again found that Ireland’s law prohibiting and criminalising abortion violated the human rights of a woman. That summer, the Citizen’s Assembly, established in 2016, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the holding of a referendum to replace the 8th Amendment and legislate for the provision of abortion in Ireland.