Irish voters delivered a landslide two to one vote to repeal the 8th Amendment and liberalise abortion laws last Saturday.
The 66 percent Yes vote in the referendum was won by relentless campaigning over decades and a mass movement from below.
It’s a blow to conservative forces in Ireland and Britain that seek to control women’s bodies.
Sinead Kennedy from the Together for Yes campaign told Socialist Worker, “A grassroots campaign led by women, many of whom had never been involved in politics, removed one of the most oppressive articles in our constitution.
“Ireland finally acknowledged that women deserve choice and bodily autonomy.
“We have literally made history.”
The results show that Yes was supported in almost every constituency. Donegal was the only constituency out of 40 to vote for No.
The strongest Yes votes came from Dublin, but most rural areas also voted overwhelmingly for repeal.
The vote represents a real shift across Ireland, not just in working class areas. The 65 percent turnout was larger than for the 2015 equal marriage referendum.
And the exit polls suggest that almost 90 percent of voters under 25 backed Yes, with the over 60 demographic most likely to vote for No.
Joyous scenes greeted the official result at the count in Dublin and throughout Ireland.
Brid Smith, People before Profit TD, told a celebration in Dublin, “We’ve put a nail in the coffin of moralism and Catholic nonsense.”
The vote means that the Irish parliament will legislate for new rules on abortion—likely to be up to 12 weeks of pregnancy (see below).
The 8th Amendment, added to the Irish Constitution in 1983, put the “life” of the foetus on an equal footing with a woman’s life.
At the moment abortion is only available when a woman’s life is at risk. Women still face up to 14 years in prison for trying to get an abortion.
Ireland’s stunning referendum victory will make it harder for the authorities in British-ruled Northern Ireland to continue to deny women basic rights.
Around one million women there are still subject to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.
Brid vowed to fight “for an Ireland that gives women a real right to choose, the right to choose to have a family as well as not to continue a pregnancy.”
The strength of the pro-choice vote is an excellent basis to continue the fight for free abortion on demand.
‘I have fought for this result for 35 years’
Thousands of activists campaigned under the umbrella organisation Together for Yes to deliver the decisive vote for repeal.
Mass canvassing attracted huge numbers, often people pulled into political activity for the first time.
Mary, a retired midwife and Dublin South Central Together For Yes co-convenor, told Socialist Worker the campaign was a critical element in the result.
“One of the reasons has been mass canvassing, general campaigning and leafletting in transport hubs,” she explained.
“This generated high visibility and a lot of excitement.”
And Mary said the heightened political atmosphere led to many women talking about their abortions—often for the first time.
“The personal stories touched people, it created a public appreciation of the private misery that the 8th Amendment caused,” she said. “These testimonies helped to commit some voters.”
Mary said the activists would now have to “fight to get the legislation over the line”.
“But the results are too resounding for the anti-abortionists to equivocate,” she added. “They know they can’t open that box again.”
The experience of fighting for repeal has turned some into “junkies for political activity”.
Mary said, “There’s a whole swathe of young women brought into activity who never thought of themselves as activists.
“They’ve been fighting for choice and against inequality. It’s not a million miles from all the other ways that women are done down by the system.”
Together for Yes combined abortion rights campaigns and NGOs. Most major trade unions supported it.
The campaign was even supported by some in the ruling parties who have obstructed abortion reform.
“They’re very opportunistic,” said Mary. “Every leader has dragged their feet or opposed change for women. “Even Sinn Fein—they supported repeal but not choice.”
But Mary said that ultimately the result left her “astounded and delighted”. “I’ve been waiting for this result for 35 years and to get it two-to-one is amazing,” she said.
Tory bigots deny abortion rights in Northern Ireland
The result will have implications in Northern Ireland—for abortion rights and beyond.
Pro-choice activists protested outside Belfast City Hall on Monday night.
Despite remaining part of the British state, the 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland.
Abortion is still illegal unless the life or mental health of the pregnant woman is deemed to be at risk.
A woman can be given life imprisonment for having an unlawful abortion. And more than 700 women travelled to Britain to have an abortion in 2016. The Protestant Orange Order in Northern Ireland was also for a No vote in the Irish referendum.
There are now calls for a referendum to be held—but there’s no reason to wait. Abortion rights could be signed into Northern Irish law tomorrow.
Tory Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has the ability to extend the 1967 Act—as should have happened 51 years ago.
But Theresa May is refusing to intervene as it would undermine her alliance with the bigots of the Democratic Unionist Party who prop up the Tories government.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the vote had “no impact” on Northern Ireland and that “it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide such issues.”
There hasn’t been a devolved government since January 2017, after the DUP and Sinn Fein couldn’t agree on a power sharing deal.
Join the Abortion Rights "Now For NI" demonstration, Tuesday 5 June, 5:30pm, Paliament Square, London.
Activists keep up pressure to get new abortion laws
Since the referendum was only about repealing the 8th Amendment, new legislation will have to be put in its place.
It is likely to allow abortion until 12 weeks of the pregnancy—or beyond that where there is a serious risk to the woman’s health.
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar has promised changes before the end of year. But he said getting the legislation passed is “not as straightforward as it may seem”.
Health minister Simon Harris has promised to move quickly to introduce a new law.
Activists will need to fight the state tooth and nail for proper investment for women’s hospitals, sexual health clinics and specialised abortion services.
And the movement must hold the politicians to account and ensure they act on the results as quickly as possible.