Ireland repeals its 8th amendment

May 26, 2018 • 10:30 am

by Grania Spingies

When I look at the video of Savita Halappanavar dancing in the streets of Galway back in 2011, it brings tears to my eyes, because she will never dance or smile or laugh again. Ireland killed her. When she miscarried a year later, Ireland’s draconian position on abortion prevented her from getting the medical intervention she so desperately needed, and she died a few days later from septicemia.  I cannot even contemplate the anguish and anger of her husband and parents. This should never have happened in the 21st century.

Savita’s harrowing story was by no means unique, however it sparked a nationwide conversation in Ireland, one that was many decades overdue.

The campaign to repeal Ireland’s 8th Amendment has steadily grown in numbers and intensity from a time when few thought that a referendum would ever happen, to the point when the Repeal Campaign not only had the support of Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar, but also the leader of the major opposition party Micheál Martin.

Only a few years ago this seemed unthinkable, not because many people did not want provision to be made for abortion, but because people genuinely feared that there would be little support in a country where traditionally so many of the laws were written under the influence of the Catholic Church. Under Irish law, a rape victim who procured an abortion was liable to serve a longer jail sentence than her rapist.

In recent years however, the Catholic Church has lost nearly all of its influence over the people of Ireland, in spite of still nominally being the majority religion of the country. The scandals of child abuse by the clergy, the exploitation of women in “Laundries” and the steady march of modernity and socioeconomic affluence has caused the Church to steadily lose members. More importantly, the Divorce referendum in 1995 and the Same-Sex Marriage referendum of 2015 showed that Irish Catholics no longer took their cues from the clergy.


So tarnished is the Church’s reputation that they deliberately tried to play a muted role in the No campaign, although they just couldn’t quite contain themselves, and the Bishops had Pro-Life letters read out in as many parishes as they could manage during Sunday Mass a couple of weeks ago. There is no such thing as separation of Church and State over here. The No side has fought a vigorous if at times bizarre campaign over the months leading up to the referendum. It’s been marked by unapologetic misinformation, scaremongering and outright lies that have had to be combated by doctors who publicly campaigned to repeal the amendment. I don’t mean to be glib. I am sure that there are anti-abortion people who have honest arguments for their position. The No campaign, however, chose to go with sensational and lurid schlock and horror instead, displaying crimson photos of unborn fetuses and an outright denial of medical reality.

There’s also been a visible presence of Pro-Life American evangelicals who blagged their way into Ireland for the purpose of trying to sway the vote against Pro-Choice. This may unintentionally have done more damage than good to their cause. Ireland is a small country, and it doesn’t take much for news to spread across the entire land. In addition, American-style religious witnessing and testifying doesn’t play well over here. Not only does it not generate a currency of respect, it is regarded as bad manners at best and more likely as the sign of an unhinged mind.


A sample of the No campaign’s supporters on Twitter: short on facts, high on melodrama, incapable of hiding their religious roots. Many of the below are also not Irish accounts which created a false impression of how much support the No side had. Tactically this isn’t smart as it generated a sense of urgency on the side of the Yes campaign to ensure maximal turnout at the voting station.

A final verdict on Friday night once the Exit Polls were published, and that verdict is Dances With Goats.

Some points worth noting:

Although the older demographic was expected to be guaranteed to vote ‘No’, a surprising number publicly chose to support the Yes to Repeal campaign. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising at all, as they—more so than anyone else—have lived through the worst human rights horrors in Ireland.


Around 40,000 Irish ex-pats are still eligible to vote and many of them returned to cast their ballot, as they did during the 2015 Same-Sex Marriage referendum. There are a multitude of stories of people crowd-sourcing the funds to purchase tickets to travel from all over the world, many of them Millennials who largely supported the Repeal campaign.

People also posted thoughts as they voted.

Final tallies of the vote confirm what last night’s exit polls promised. Ireland has voted to repeal its Eight Amendment allowing for legislation to make provision for abortion to be passed. The No campaign has conceded defeat. The mood is triumphant but emotional: the cost of reaching this point has been high and the cruelty of the past can never really be undone.

On a more long-term note, the Catholic Church has lost another major battle for the hearts and minds of the Irish people. Two last places remain to it: schools and hospitals. I predict that at least one of those will fall too once the Church tries to undermine abortion procedures (and it will) carried out in hospitals that it claims authority over. Just to be clear, the hospitals are entirely funded by Irish taxpayers. However the Catholic Church still has control over some hospitals as members of Boards of Directors. Legislators are going to have to address this in the coming months.

59 thoughts on “Ireland repeals its 8th amendment

  1. ‘Twas a long, long time ago that my maternal ancestors left the Emerald Isle, but I can’t help feeling a wee bit o’ pride on this — like St. Paddy’s Day, but for a purpose. 🙂

    1. My granddad was from Éire. For his role in the Easter Rebellion he was given a choice; emigrate or prison. I loved the old guy; he had the gift of gab and as a child that is a wonder (sadly that gift was not passed down). But he was a right bastard. In Boston he became a cop who broke up unions in his spare time. The only thing we have of him is his shillelagh, iron knuckles, black jack and a .38 Police Special. He is probably spinning in his grave.

      I’m told my cousins voted yes, so there is that to be proud of.

      1. Your granddad’s tale was a common occurrence in late 19th, early 20th century America. That is, the corporate interests used the power of the state to crush labor. And the physical suppression was carried out by people not very different in socioeconomic from their “brothers.” Unfortunately, the ruling class still uses the tactic of divide-and-conquer, without the need for overt physical force.

        1. Yeah and it was a real source of conflict between my dad and granddad. My dad was a Union organizer, granddad busted union heads; he is alleged to have killed a man while breaking up a strike at Fafnir Bearing in New Britain CT. My understanding is that sometimes he and other cops wore their uniforms when they beat up strikers. They were paid by the owners of the businesses. It was a different era.

          Grandad also made my father attend Catholic schools. As a result my father had a life long hatred of nuns and priests. He married the daughter of a Liverpudlian and my earliest memories are of the two families never talking to each other. I think both my mom and dad were happy with that situation.

          Before he died my father and granddad reconciled and for that I am grateful.

        2. There was also, in the middle of the 19th century, the matter of the Great Potato (or, as my Boston-Irish in-laws say it, “Puhdaydah”) Famine.

      2. “… he had the gift of gab and as a child that is a wonder (sadly that gift was not passed down).”

        Oh, I dunno, Mikey, I’ve sneaking suspicion you’re a chip off the old Blarney Stone. 🙂

    1. I am thrilled for the people of Ireland. One more great step. Now – go after the hospitals and schools.

      Could use HELP on this one. Can someone give me an example of American style witnessing plz. Thank you.

        1. Thank you. Wow – first thought, unhinged. So some christian zealots from the US actually went to Ireland and tried to use this method to change minds. It would not go over well at all here in Canada either.

    1. Yep. This is fantastic!

      Another step up the ladder for women, another nail in the coffin for religion.

  2. And the not so good news. In Iowa, just this month they passed one that bans abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected. This takes place at about 6 weeks just about the same time most determine they are pregnant. It is unconstitutional of course but the Christians don’t give a damn. They don’t give a damn for females or much of anything but their religion.

    1. The ROC and Christianity in general has a rotten totalitarian history that goes back to the time when it fused with state power in Constantine’s reign. With that they had the resources to turn Europe into theological concentration camp. I am quite happy to see the ROC get their balls thoroughly kicked in this vote.

  3. This doesn’t actually legalise abortion. It just moves it from being regulated by the constitution to being regulated by the parliament. The question now is how much can the law be liberalised before the enthusiasm dies, as Ireland still has the second worst abortion law in the EU(Malta has a total prohibition, Poland is slightly less restrictive)

    1. The whole point is that the constitution prevented parliament from passing any more liberal abortion law. It is now expected that a far more liberal law will promptly be passed.
      There is (I believe) a draft on the books ready to go. And certainly no legislator can now claim that the country doesn’t want it.


  4. Hooray!
    And, as mentioned earlier, and I’m sure you are very much aware of that, Grania, the struggle is just beginning. Getting the doctors and nurses on board (for example) for starters. I hope they are not as ‘hardegat’ as here in South Africa.

    1. The doctors and nurses are for the most part on board, and in fact were vocal campaigners to repeal the amendment, The sticking point is far more likely to be the religious clergy serving on the Board of Directors of several nominally Catholic (but State-funded) hospitals.


      1. Glad to hear that about your drs and nurses! It is a bit different here.
        Less glad about those Boards of Directors, of course.

  5. I remember when Ireland first legalized same sex marriage, beating the US to the punch, certain American slacktivists were trying to rain on the parade by pointing out the country’s abortion ban. And it was rather infuriating to see people who’d done so little for social progress in their own country taking others to task for accomplishing a lot but “not enough.”

    Well now those individuals have nothing left to wag their fingers about. This is what REAL social justice looks like.

  6. Congratulations to Ireland!

    Here is an anecdotal perspective from an Ireland-loving Swede (run through Google Translate):

    “The fact that Ireland votes in favor of a more liberal abortion policy does not surprise Ireland scout and author Ola Larsmo.

    “Ireland has changed and modernized in recent years,” he says.

    Ola Larsmo, famous for his historical novels, usually visits Ireland once a year and has followed the country’s development since the late 70’s.

    “When I visited Ireland for the first time 40 years ago, it was like coming to a poor eastern state where the church and nationalism had a strong grip on politics.

    According to Larsmo, the change came shortly thereafter.

    “In the past there was a strong alliance between nationalism and the church, but one could see a change that began to come in the 80s and 90s, when several exciting writers and musicians emerged and revitalized and modernized Irish society. It then spread to business.

    For example, Larsmo mentions the rock group U2 with the singer Bono, as an example of the groups and people who took part in the change process of Irish society.

    “I had become more surprised if Ireland had voted no, then there would have been a sign that development has stopped,” said the author.

    “Today, the country has a prime minister with roots in India, which is also openly gay. It had been unthinkable a few years ago and it all tells us how Ireland has changed.”

    [ ]

    1. Did Bono and/or U2 make any public statements about the vote? There’s an old rumor that Bono is a big closet christian.

  7. “To your past”-pre-Christian pagans.
    “To your future” -post-Christian humanists, I hope.
    “To who you are” -a people freeing themselves from the tyranny of the pope and his minions.

    Well done, 🇮🇪

  8. From the NYT:


    “This is devastating for the Roman Catholic hierarchy,” said Gail McElroy, professor of politics at Trinity College Dublin. “It is the final nail in the coffin for them. They’re no longer the pillar of society, and their hopes of re-establishing themselves are gone.”


    Congratulations to the women of Ireland!

    1. The anecdote about Michael Eustace at the end of the NYT story — saying a prayer for the women who’ve died as he voted No — illustrates the hypocrisy engrained in the anti-abortion position. Quite happy for it to be done as long as it’s somewhere else.

  9. This is a “disaster” to the Catholic misogynists because it will prevent them from murdering more “sluts” who “should not have had sex in the first place” and now need an abortion. Congratulations to Ireland for joining the 21st century and putting another nail in the coffin of religious barbarism!

  10. It is possible that factors more fundamental than Bono and U2 underly the cultural change in the Republic of Ireland. The Irish GNP per capita rose from $5630 in 1985 to $44,610 in 2005 and then $51,760 in 2016. [See: ]. Eire’s GDP per capita has been among the highest in the EU since ~ 2000.
    In the 1990s and 2000s, Eire also had a much higher rate of post-secondary training in science and technology than the UK, Germany, France, or, for that matter, the USA.

    On the other hand, the USA (and maybe the UK) shows an academic preeminence in Critical Gender Theory, Postmodernism, and similar exciting subjects. Maybe we will soon enjoy a corresponding cultural transformation in the larger society.

    1. “… factors more fundamental than Bono and U2 …”

      You mean like Bob Geldof and Sinead O’Connor? 🙂

  11. This U.S. grandmother who was of child-bearing age in the 60s knew women who had no access to abortion, even if needed for their own health, in areas where hospitals were owned and operated by Catholics. For the most part, abortion was either a secret backstreet or do-it-yourself operation, often with tragic consequences.

    On another note, later in the 60s when I could no longer take high-dose birth control pills and opted for having my tubes tied, I was supposed to get written permission from my husband before the surgery would be done. Since I didn’t have it, he was permitted to give verbal assent. If he had not, I could not have had the procedure. This, in a Kaiser Hospital in California(not Catholic, as far as I know.)

    I have tears in my eyes and shivers up my spine from pride in this Irish moment. May you be successful in getting the abortion laws changed entirely. And wrest the administration of hospitals from Catholic control. Perhaps, we should crowd source funding to fly the Irish over to the U.S. to help us beat our own religious busybodies still passing laws against abortion and restricting funding.

    1. Young people today could learn much from your experiences, Rowena. I think many of them are in the dark about what life was like in the not-so-distant bad old days.

      1. Young people today could learn much from Rowena and “what life was like in the not-so-distant bad old days”. With the increasing gun-violence which is the opposite of “what life was like in the not-so-distant bad old days”, I’m hoping and seeing that a insurmountable sea change is charging ahead.

  12. For 35 years women’s health was put at risk by the 8th amendment. Yesterday we voted; as a nation and across all ages to repeal an archaic relic of an Ireland that no longer exists.
    The body politic is finally catching up to where the citizens all ready are.

    The next seven days are when we will see the legal cases brought to the high court. Hopefully, like the marriage equality referendum, the overwhelming nature of the victory will mean these will be dismissed.

    After that the aim is 6 months to get it through the dail and seannad. Then onto Micheal D’s desk for signature into law.

    I cannot begin to say how proud I am of all the campaigners on this and sorry that all I could give was some cash to the cause.

    I know our former president Mary Robinson campaigned against it in 1983, predicting the X case ten years before it happened by the way. This was a victory for her and Mna Na Eireaan

    Finally Seamus Heaney said it best

    History says, don’t hope
    On this side of the grave.
    But then once in a lifetime
    The longed-for tidal wave
    Of Justice can rise up,
    And hope and history rhyme.

    Twice now the Irish nation has risen to the polls and changed our society. There is still an awful lot of work to do but it’s not a bad start.

  13. When you think about the very long history of the Church and superstition of all sorts in Ireland, over centuries and millennia, you’ve got to feel a deep sense of sympathy for mankind. On our driving trip through the Irish countryside a couple of years ago we encountered many deep scars of the Catholic past. Abandoned for many decades but still able to testify as well as ruins of cultures that date to well over 4,000 thousand years:

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