In a stunning rebuke to the Catholic Church and its longtime stronghold in the country, exit polls suggest Ireland has voted to repeal their constitution’s draconian Eighth Amendment which bans abortion in nearly all cases. In a nation where 78% of people claim to be Catholic, the religion’s anti-abortion stance didn’t seem to matter, just as its opposition to same-sex relationships didn’t matter in 2015, when citizens voted to legalize marriage equality.
According to the Irish Times,
Ireland has voted by a landslide margin to change the constitution so that abortion can be legalised, according to an exit poll conducted for The Irish Times by Ipsos/MRBI.
The poll suggests that the margin of victory for the Yes side in the referendum will be 68 per cent to 32 per cent — a stunning victory for the Yes side after a long and often divisive campaign.
That’s stunning in part because the Catholic Church is a major reason that ban made it into the Irish constitution in 1983.
The New Yorker‘s Margaret Talbot noted that this could be a self-inflicted wound. Church leaders have done plenty over the years to discredit their own moral authority, giving people less of a reason to take their views seriously.
… the Catholic Church’s hold in Ireland has weakened, following years of revelations about child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and about the Church’s mistreatment of “fallen women,” who had become pregnant out of wedlock. (In 2013, Ireland’s Prime Minister at the time, Enda Kenny, issued a state apology for the Church-run Magdalene Laundries, where such women were confined as unpaid workers, often in drudgery and cruelty.)
When they fail at answering the most basic moral issues, why should anyone trust priests on more complicated issues like abortion? And make no mistake, it was a complicated issue. It was about equal rights. It was about access to proper health care. It was about who controls a woman’s body.
The Catholic Church held such little sway over the population that some of the largest groups fighting to keep the abortion ban in place weren’t fronted by Catholics at all. They must have known that religious appeals to control women weren’t going to win over a significant number of voters anymore.
It’s not like there was a rational reason to keep the ban in effect, anyway. Banning abortion didn’t stop abortion — it never has. It just threw another obstacle in the path of women who wanted or needed one. Thousands of women left Ireland every year to have the procedure done in another country — and those are just the ones who reported it in the UK. Arguably many more obtained abortions in other countries or attempted to do it themselves.
If Catholics truly wanted to decrease abortion rates, they would have fought to legalize the procedure while promoting contraception and morning-after pills. They did neither.
There’s still a long way to go. Repealing the Eighth Amendment, assuming the early predictions stand, doesn’t suddenly mean all women can have abortions on demand. Legislators will have to write new laws detailing which abortions are legal — one plan suggests legalization only through the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. It would still be restrictive, but less so than it is now. The government has vowed to have something passed by the end of the year.
No matter the drawbacks, though, we ought to celebrate the incredible people of Ireland who voted to give women more control over their own lives instead of letting the Church set the ground rules based on irrational dogma.
In 1983, 67% of voters approved of the abortion ban. Today, according to the exit polls, the numbers were flipped.
Should make for some rather interesting Church services on Sunday… at least for the few people who will be there to listen.
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