In early 2018, the Republic of Ireland voted by a substantial margin to legalise abortion and bring the legislation in line with that of other Western nations. This was a remarkable shift in public opinion, only 20 years before the country was very opposed to the idea, with most people following the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Now that Ireland is much less religious (it is the fastest secularising country on earth, according to one metric), the possibility for less prescriptive and fundamentalist policy is possible. Scandals have rocked the church and destroyed many people’s trust in the institution and a new generation of young, aspiring, well educated, and liberal Irish people are taking giant leaps away from the restrictive policies that Ireland had employed.
Where to Next?
Abortion supporters have hailed the vast change in attitudes and the resulting legislation as a hope for many other countries that are either very religiously dominated or emerging from years of religious social control. If it is possible in a country that in living memory was almost completely dominated by the Church, it should be possible everywhere else.
Campaigning North of the Border
Northern and Southern Ireland have a troubled past and a peace that is holding fast but can still be threatened. Like the ROI, Northern Ireland has lost much of its religious impetus of late. The scandals that broke the back of the church in the ROI were scandals north of the border as well. Trust in the morality handed down by the church has been destroyed by the way they hid sexual abuse cases and corruption. No longer following the church, people are starting to see more nuanced arguments for the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.
The UN has condemned Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation, saying that it violates women’s rights. Pressure from inside the UK is mounting, especially with the weak coalition that has been formed with the DUP and the Tories. There is a chance Westminster might step in and impose a rule, though this would not be politically very wise.
The movement for a change in abortion policy in Northern Ireland is growing. It was given an enormous boost by the abortion referendum in the ROI and the momentum is looking hard to stop at this point.
Around the World
Abortion legislation is never set in stone. There is considerable resistance from religious and moralising groups over the matter, and some of the tactics the groups are becoming more serious and like the resistance groups in America, who have picketed and sometimes abused women outside abortion clinics.
Donald Trump has made it clear he is in support of repealing the Roe Vs Wade legislation that was introduced in the 1970’s that made abortion legal and more accessible. The ROI referendum is a strong indicator of public support but when faced with leaders like Mr. Trump, public pressure is unlikely to succeed.
There are dozens of countries around the world where abortion is illegal. Many of these are developing and poor nations, still legislating on the religious and moral grounds that are popular with poorer voters (if they have a chance to vote). As countries become more wealthy and stable, generally religiosity decreases. The battle for rational and humanist policy in these countries is a long one, and many organisations and NGO’s are fighting hard to raise awareness and access to abortion around the world.
Hope for Women’s Rights
The Irish referendum has conclusively proven that a country can alter its perspective on a highly emotive issue in a relatively short time. Campaigners have used it as inspiration and impetus to continue the fight for the reproductive rights of women. It is easy to forget how long and hard people fought for these rights and how the fight continues. The referendum looks to many as a solid step in the right direction.
Now that women in Ireland no longer have to travel to other countries in Europe (usually the UK) to obtain an abortion, the number of abortions is going to increase in Ireland. This could be perceived as a bad thing, but alongside the rising number of abortions will be the falling number of women who have risked their fertility or their lives with unreliable and botched abortion treatments.
Women in the ROI can now attend a clinic and obtain an abortion for a relatively low price (or for free) and in complete safety. There is still opposition from religious groups in Ireland but they are a much weakened force. The stigma of abortion still has some way to go before it is substantially reduced, but as the availability of abortion increases and the number of high profile women who have had one and can talk about it rises, the ROI is becoming a safe place for women who have to make a very difficult choice.
Poor women who could not afford to have an abortion in another country are free to make that difficult choice in safety and with support from their families, friends, and medical professionals.