Not to play into stereotypes about millennials, but I checked my phone a lot this weekend. Even more than normal. For anyone following Ireland’s abortion referendum, phones were glanced at repeatedly, hoping for any indication of how the results were going to play out. When greeted with Friday night’s exit polls, supporters of the ‘Repeal The Eighth’ campaign were taken aback in equal parts shock and relief. With The Irish Times and RTÉ both predicting a landslide 70% victory to repeal the Eighth Amendment and a final result showing two thirds of voters having voted for the ‘Yes’ campaign, this was an unexpected yet clear victory for women.
In spite of this total triumph for the ‘Repeal’ side, the results of this vote had by no means been a dead cert. The Eighth Amendment had initially been brought in via referendum in 1983 and dictated that, in line with Catholic teaching, a foetus be given the same rights as the woman bearing it. In effect, this served to outlaw abortion, with no caveats being made for victims of rape or incest; the law pledged to allow termination if the woman’s life was at risk, but this was often not the case in practice.
Savita Halappanavar was one woman who suffered under this rule, passing away in 2012 after she was prevented from terminating the pregnancy she was miscarrying and dying of sepsis as a result. Halappanavar’s death was deemed by many to be the catalyst for the referendum and her face was plastered over murals and posters for repeal throughout the campaign, representing the cruelty of the Eighth Amendment.
With nine women travelling to England every day to access abortion services – a privilege only available to those who can afford it – or taking the matter dangerously into their own hands, many argued that voting ‘no’ would not put an end to abortion, but simply placed women at risk and encouraging illegal terminations.
With healthcare professionals and the leaders of every major political party in Ireland backing the ‘Repeal’ side, the referendum had come to reflect a larger shift in world politics: the argument of science versus religion; fact versus fear. Perhaps this is why the result was one that simultaneously shocked and restored hope; in the age of climate change denial and funding cuts to sexual health services in the U.S., 2018 has often felt like a place where both science and female narratives are treated with hostility. With every group between the ages of 18 and 65 voting in Ireland to repeal the Eighth, Friday’s victory shows us that aggressive scaremongering will not always out, providing us with a glimmer of hope for the future of politics.
Artwork by Marie Köhl, on Instagram @marionetten_tanz