Ireland's historic vote sparks pressure for change in the north

The referendum to remove constitutional amdement banning abortion in Ireland passed on May 25 with more than 66% in favour.

Ireland's historic abortion vote has fuelled calls for reform in the island's North, with Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald saying it was time for the six counties to adopt the same legislation. The six counties that make up the Northern Ireland statelet are still controlled by Britain, although British laws governing abortion does not apply and abortion remains illegal.

Irish citizens flew in from across the world on My 25 with more than two million casting their vote. An overwhelming 66.4% voted in favour of repealing the law, paving the way for the legalisation of abortion.

The vote was expected by many to be close, with polls leading into the final day showing yes with a slender lead of 54-46 over a no vote. With between 14% and 20%, undecided neither side was ready to concede.

But with a 64.5% – higher than the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum – Ireland voted by an overwhelming majority to repeal the eighth amendment.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said: "We have without doubt done right by Irish women for this generation and many to come."

Holding a banner reading “the North is next”, she called on authorities in the North to give women the same rights as those in the south.

The Northern Ireland-based Alliance for Choice welcomed the result, with campaigner Danielle Roberts saying: “We are proud to have played a small part in solidarity campaigning with our friends in Ireland, and we will continue with that solidarity until it is no longer needed.

“We also gratefully acknowledge the offers we have already had, in solidarity from the south, to work towards the change that is still so urgently needed in Northern Ireland.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May now faces pressure to act in the north of Ireland – but her fragile grip on power oin Britain rests on the support of the ultra-conservative Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which strongly oppose changes to abortion laws.

Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar welcomed the vote and said it was “a day when we say no more. No more to doctors telling their patients there's nothing can be done for them in their own country, no more lonely journeys across the Irish Sea, no more stigma as the veil of secrecy is lifted and no more isolation as the burden of shame is gone.”

Health Minister Simon Harris said the people of Ireland had shown that they “want to live in a country that treats women with compassion. Under the Eighth Amendment, women in crisis pregnancy have been told take the plane, take the boat, today we tell them take our hand.

The vote was welcomed as a major advance for women’s rights in a country where the once dominant Catholic Church played a key role in pushing and promoting the 1983 constitutional amendment that saw the “right of an unborn child” given equal status to the right of a mother.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ITUC) general secretary Patricia King said the organisation had “always been consistent in our belief that reproductive health should not be determined by the provisions of the constitution” and remembered those forced to “silently seek treatment away from family and friends over the decades, in secret and in fear.”

The government will work on draft legislation that will allow for abortion without restrictions up to 12 weeks and up to 23 weeks in some circumstances, including rape and health reasons. It promised to pass the legislation by the end of the year.

[Abridged from Morning Star Online.]