Why this story matters:
Currently, abortion is illegal in Ireland, except in cases where the pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the mother, including by suicide. This is due to the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which recognizes the equal right to life of the mother and unborn child.
Thousands of women travel abroad to seek abortions outside Ireland every year. According to figures from the department of health in the UK, more than 3,265 terminations were performed on women from the Republic of Ireland in 2016, and 724 on women from Northern Ireland.
The figure from the Republic has fallen from almost 8,000 in 2002, in line with the increase in the number of illegal abortion pills being ordered online. One service, Women on Web, reported its orders from the Republic have tripled from 548 in 2010 to 1,748 in 2016.
Last Thursday, members of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment recommended that terminations be made available for up to 12 weeks without restriction. The majority of the committee also supported abortions in the case of rape, fatal fetal abnormalities, and when a mother’s life or health is at risk.
It was, as one Irish Times columnist described it, a “momentous” vote.
Six Cabinet Ministers have already indicated their support for the committee’s recommendations, and it looks likely that a referendum on the issue will be held in May or June 2018.
In his Irish Times column this week, Fintan O’Toole accuses Ireland of having a more stringent law on abortion than even Donald Trump would approve of. Commenting on the issue in 2016, Trump said “women punish themselves” for abortions and indicated that “prison punishment” would not be appropriate.
Three years previously, the Irish government passed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act which claims that a women who has an abortion, or any doctor who assists her, or any member or officer of an organisation that helps her is liable on conviction to a prison sentence of 14 years. (In Northern Ireland, the potential sentence is life imprisonment.)
“The Irish regime threatens women and their doctors with penalties more severe than those generally imposed on child rapists,” O’Toole writes.
“It is… entirely possible to be utterly opposed to abortion for moral and religious reasons and at the same to think that it is not an area for the criminal law, still less for the Constitution. If it’s too extreme for Trump, it’s too extreme for Ireland.”
Details from the story:
- More than 3,265 terminations were performed in the UK on women from the Republic of Ireland in 2016.
- In 2002, that number was almost 8,000.
- Orders of abortion pills from Women on Web sent to the Republic tripled from 548 in 2010 to 1,748 in 2016.
- Women in Ireland who have an abortion, or anyone who assists her can face 14 years in prison.