Ireland’s abortion vote

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It, Irish voters on Friday decided to remove protections from the unborn.

That vote repealed the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution. It gave equal regard for the life of the mother and for her unborn child.

Ireland added the amendment back in 1983.

When Irish voters approved it, they did so with an overwhelming two-thirds of the vote.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: But 35 years since, things have changed in this predominantly Catholic nation. What was once unthinkable is now actionable.

The repeal means new legal abortion laws are likely.

Here to talk about this is WORLD correspondent Jenny Lind Schmitt. She’s looked into all this and visited Ireland in the run-up to the vote. Jenny, up to the day before the referendum, polls predicted the vote would be close. What happened?  

JENNY LIND SCHMITT, REPORTER: Right, the polls were predicting a pretty even split, and so it was very surprising what happened that two-thirds of the eligible voters turned out. It’s a very high turn-out, up to 70 percent in some areas. And then of those, 2-to-1 voted to repeal the amendment, and so there was a landslide victory for the “yes” to repeal the amendment.

How would you describe the public campaign to repeal protection for the unborn?

SCHMITT: The public campaign was led by the government itself. The Taoiseach or the Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, and the Minister of Health, Simon Harris, who — and that received some criticism from across the board because what was supposed to be more of a neutral campaign, the government weighed in heavily on. And so for the pro-life side, it was very much more grassroots, and they had to fight against a lot of media bias. And, also, kind of a heavy blow to the pro-life campaign was in the last few weeks of the campaign, both Facebook and Google banned ads on their sites, and that’s where a lot of the grassroots messages were getting put out there, and so they were unable to do so.

Jenny, you interviewed an Irish woman named Mary Kenny who was active in the LoveBoth campaign to preserve protection for the unborn. She credits the amendment with saving the life of her daughter. A note to listeners to pay close attention as Mary speaks of course with an Irish brogue:

KENNY: I think now more than ever the pro-life movement needs to step up. Like I’ve even seen in recent days since the result, we are still in mourning for our 8th Amendment. That it is gone. But there’s no despair, there’s such an uplift in people knowing that now more than ever. You know, our pro-life presence is gonna be needed in this country because we see that two thirds of this country think that abortion on demand is OK. And they put their yes to that. And they’ll never be able to say they didn’t know because we leafletted, we canvassed, we ran rallies, we went to the doors. We did everything in our power that we could do and they still- people, they just didn’t listen.

What’s the reaction in Ireland? And elsewhere?

SCHMITT: Well, for the “yes” side to repeal, there’s a lot of joy, jubilance. This is seen as really progressive and for the– a move for the rights of women. There was video of a big celebration in Dublin Castle of people chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and that was seen with some criticism from everyone saying, Oh, that’s — even for a positive vote, the reaction saying — this vote that will bring abortion to Ireland, it’s a somber thing. It should not be celebrated this way.

On the “no” side there’s a real sense of grief and loss, and Mary Kenny told me that she went to mass on Sunday and there was just a sense of grief, and people sad with each other for the babies that will lose their lives in the future because of this vote. The rest of Europe, looking at some of media outlets there, actually in the run-up to the election there was kind of a surprise that abortion was not legal in Ireland, and so now that this has passed there’s kind of this sense of, “Oh, finally their laws comply with us, the rest of Europe.”

REICHARD: So what’s next concerning abortion in Ireland? I assume it’s not immediately legal.

SCHMITT: Right. The prime minister in this whole campaign had promised that they would propose legislation by the year’s end. Now they’re talking about before the Parliament breaks for the summer, introducing legislation. And the legislation they are promoting would allow abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks gestation. And then after that time period in certain special cases. So, when the mother’s health is at risk or for fatal fetal abnormalities, possibly going even longer than 6 months. There’s some questions and criticisms there with the vague definitions of the mother’s health. There’s been questions of what does that mean and is depression a cause for abortion and, thereby, that might open up the way to a much broader and even more liberal abortion law.    

REICHARD: And the response of Irish pro-life groups?

SCHMITT: Well, obviously, there’s grief and sorrow, but there’s also some resignation and people saying that they know they put up a good fight and gave it everything. And then also looking ahead knowing, “Alright, if this is coming…” and looking at the UK, looking at the U.S. knowing what abortion would do in a society, knowing that there needs to be a pro-life presence and a pro-life voice. There’s already pro-life legislators saying they will fight the legislation in the Parliament as it comes up. And there’s also thinking keeping that grassroots network — there’s already discussion saying in each county there needs to be someone who can be a pro-life crisis pregnancy counselor and naming those persons. And thinking of how can they form a pregnancy center so there is help available all throughout the country as an alternative to abortion clinics.

Well, Thomas Cahill wrote the book How the Irish Saved Civilization. They did that by preserving Judeo-Christian culture. So this is a sad day.

Jenny Lind Schmitt is a WORLD correspondent based in Seattle. Thank you, Jenny.

SCHMITT: Thank you, Mary.

(AP Photo/Peter Morrison) People from the “Yes” campaign react as the results of the votes begin to come in, after the Irish referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution at Dublin Castle, in Dublin, Ireland, Saturday May 26, 2018. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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