The Irish Abortion Referendum: What The Vote Is About, And Why It Matters

Jasmin Gray
Voters will decide whether to keep Ireland's restrictive abortion laws 

What is the Irish abortion referendum about?

Ireland’s abortion referendum will decide whether the country’s strict abortion laws should be relaxed.

Voters will be given the chance to vote yes or no on whether the Eighth Amendment to the country’s constitution should be repealed, opening the doors for the government to pass legislation making abortion legal.

The Eighth Amendment currently says the unborn child and the mother have an equal right to life.

Under the country’s new laws if the amendment is repealed, women in Ireland could legally obtain an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to 24 weeks in cases where the woman’s life or health was at risk.

Terminations would also be allowed if the unborn baby had a fatal abnormality.

What are Ireland’s current abortion laws?

Under Ireland’s current abortion laws, terminating a pregnancy is effectively illegal.

While Irish politicians voted to allow terminations under “limited circumstances” in 2013, including when the mother’s life is under threat as a result of the pregnancy, just 25 legal abortions were carried out in Ireland in 2016.

Women who obtain an illegal abortion in Ireland can face up to 14 years imprisonment.

Expectant mothers are, however, allowed to travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies. In 2016, 3,265 Irish women made the journey from Ireland to the UK for the procedure.

A woman and her young nephew pictured at a pro-life rally in Dublin 

When is the vote set to take place?

Voters will head to the polls on Friday May 24, which are open between 7am and 10pm. The result is expected to be revealed on Saturday.

Who can vote?

Registered Irish voters over the age of 18 will be able to take part in the referendum. However, while some of the Irish diaspora will be allowed to return home to vote, those who have been living outside of the country for more than 18 months are barred from participating.

Pro-choice activists dressed in outfits inspired by The Handmaids Tale

What is the outcome likely to be?

A poll on the referendum by Sky News predicted a narrow margin of victory for the Yes campaign, with data suggesting that just under half of the Irish public - 47% - support the legalisation of abortion.

According to the results, a further 37% of voters want the Eighth Amendment to remain, while 17% either didn’t know how they would vote or didn’t want to say. 

How would a Yes vote change Ireland’s place on the world stage when it comes to abortion law?

According to Amnesty International, Ireland currently has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. 

However, if the country’s prospective legislation is passed, it will mean that it surpasses Northern Ireland in terms of access to terminations. 

Despite being part of the UK, abortion is essentially still illegal in Northern Ireland. Terminations are banned in almost every instance, including when the mother is the victim of rape or incest, and when the unborn child has an abnormality that means it would not survive outside of the womb. 

Between 2016 and 2017, just 13 legal abortions were carried out in Northern Ireland.

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