Ireland is scheduling a referendum on its draconian abortion laws, which prohibit terminating a pregnancy even in the cases of rape, incest, or severe fetal abnormalities. It is likely to be a very, very contentious campaign.
The New York Times reports the referendum will take place next year. Specifically up for debate is the eighth amendment to the country’s constitution, which was passed in 1983 and affords a fetus an equal right to life, making it practically impossible to obtain an abortion. Thousands of Irish women are estimated to go abroad for abortions every year. The procedure is only allowed when a woman’s life is considered to be at risk, but, as the The Times notes:
Much of the impetus for the new constitutional effort stems from the case of Savita Halappanavar, 31, an Indian-born dentist who died of sepsis after miscarrying in a Galway hospital in 2012. Having learned that her 17-week-old fetus would not live, Ms. Halappanavr repeatedly asked the staff to terminate the pregnancy to relieve her own worsening condition. She was told that her pregnancy could not be terminated while the fetus had a heartbeat.
An inquiry determined that recent interpretations of the Eighth Amendment had found therapeutic terminations to be permissible, but the medical staff’s uncertainty over the law and the lack of clear legislation contributed to a delay in her treatment.
The Times explains that, the devil being in the details, much will depend on the precise framing and phrasing of the referendum: “An Irish Times poll in May showed that large majorities supported legal changes allowing abortion in cases of rape or serious risk to the physical or mental health of the mother, but less than a quarter of people supported changes making it legal under all circumstances.”
The referendum will likely be held in May or June.