On May 25 Ireland abortion laws lifted their 35-year ban through a controversial and successful abortion referendum.

The majority ‘yes’ vote at the polls now means the women of Ireland will have the right to legally terminate their pregnancy up until the 12-week mark; something they have previously been unable to do under the Eighth Amendment.

But as the Ireland abortion referendum caught headlines around the world, the once-taboo topic also sparked myriad conversations around the globe as the debate teetered between being called a health issue and a religious one.

Interestingly, the topic of abortion in Ireland has been the subject of six referendums and many court decisions during in the last 35 years.

While Ireland now joins a long list of countries that have legalised abortion, there are still 18 countries around the world that still have a total ban on it.

So what made the majority of people in Ireland choose to legalise it after almost four decades, and what led the procedure to be deemed illegal in Ireland in the first place? With an eye on the future we take a look back at where it all began.

The History of Ireland’s Abortion Laws

Prior to May 25 this year, the Republic of Ireland had a total ban on abortion in a law that was set in 1983 and governed by the Eighth Amendment which states, “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies”.

At that time and according to the Central Statistics Office, 93 percent of the population of the Republic of Ireland identified as being Catholic. It was also a time when homosexuality was illegal and contraception was restricted. These restrictions were relaxed later in the 1980s while homosexuality was subsequently decriminalized in the 1990s.

A Timeline of the Ireland Abortion Laws

  • The Early Days
    The “unlawful procurement of a miscarriage” was stated a crime under the Offences Against The Person Act of 1861, which remained in force after Irish independence in 1922.
  • Pro-life Anti-Abortion Advocacy
    In 1983, an anti-abortion advocacy organization that was set up two years prior instigated the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign which brought about the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution through a successful referendum on banning abortion in September 7, 1983.
  • Abortion With Restrictions
    In a court ruling in 1992, it was concluded that abortion was permitted in the case where pregnancy threatens a woman’s life including suicide. In this case a 14-year-old statutory rape victim, known in the courts and to the media as ‘X’ (to protect her identity), contemplated suicide over her unwanted pregnancy.
  • The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act
    In 2012 the death of Savita Halappanavar grabbed headlines all around the world, once again sparking debate, rallies and marches over abortion laws in Ireland. The 31-year-old dentist died from septic miscarriage on October 28, 2012 at 17 weeks’ gestation. She had been denied an abortion by the medical team before miscarrying then dying from cardiac arrest caused by the sepsis. As a result of her death, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, which allows for legal abortion under circumstances, was passed.
  • Referendum Gains Momentum
    In 2016 the death of Savita Halappanavar increased calls for repeal over the Constitution as the need for a referendum gained momentum.
  • Abortion Legalised in Ireland
    On May 26, 2018 a 66.4 percentage of votes in the referendum approved the Thirty-Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018 to allow for legislation on the termination of pregnancy.

Abortion Laws Around The World

According to the World Health Organisation, there are still 18 countries around the world that currently have a total ban on abortion, including Malta, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Philipines and El Salvador.

Contrary to that, most of Europe, North America, northern Asia as well as Cambodia, South Africa and many more have legalised abortion. In Australia it has been decriminalised in some states, however in other states it’s only considered lawful under a range of circumstances. The United States legalised abortion more than four decades ago back in 1973 after a landmark court decision, however despite being legal, it can be restricted by each of the states to varying degrees.

While the Republic of Ireland has liberalised abortion some say this might also influence its closest neighbour Northern Ireland, whose laws governing the termination of pregnancy currently date back to the 19th century.

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