The world will take heed when voters decide whether to repeal the constitutional clause that ensures terminating pregnancies is illegal in almost all circumstances
On Friday, Ireland will vote on whether to remove a single sentence which enshrines a near-total ban on abortion in the constitution, even in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality. The eighth amendment underpins the strictest controls in a western democracy, placing the “right to life of the unborn” on a par with the life of the mother.
This is, as it must be, Ireland’s decision. But its impact will not end there. It will be felt first in Northern Ireland, with its own punitive laws, and then globally. The influx of cash from foreign anti-abortion groups shows that the vote must be understood in the context of efforts to roll back rights, from the US to Brazil to Poland. A yes vote would hearten those resisting the pressure, a no vote embolden those trying to ban safe, legal abortions. Moreover, the amendment exports rather than halts abortions. In recent decades more than 150,000 Irish women have travelled to have abortions, mostly to England. Others use smuggled pills, risking prosecution if they subsequently need medical attention.