Ireland Just Voted to Legalize Abortion

The Catholic country overwhelmingly rejected one of the world’s strictest abortion laws.

Niall Carson/PA Wire/AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

On Friday, Ireland made history when the country voted to repeal its constitution’s Eighth Amendment, one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. The referendum’s passage is a huge win for reproductive-rights advocates in a Catholic country that for decades pledged to give women and fetuses an “equal right to life” and made abortion punishable by up to 14 years in prison. 

The final numbers were overwhelmingly in favor of repeal.

Earlier today, there was an initial breakdown of the yes/no split by age group:

The Irish government is expected to introduce legislation that allows abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, appointed in June 2017, has called himself “pro-life” but he also voiced his support of the repeal, saying the amendment was “too restrictive.”  He described the vote as “the culmination of a quiet revolution in Ireland.” 

In January after his cabinet agreed to hold the referendum, Varadkar said, “I do not believe that the Constitution is the place for making absolute statements about medical, moral, and legal issues. An issue that is not black and white can never be explained in black and white.”

In 2016, more than 3,000 Irish people traveled to England to have abortions. Research suggests that at least a few hundred Irish women order abortion pills online per year, although an exact number is unknown. 

For decades, many Irish people saw the amendment as a symbol of the country’s deeply-held Catholic faith. Ireland officially banned abortion in 1983, largely in response to 1973’s United States Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion in the US. But in 2012, a woman named Savita Halappanavar died in an Irish hospital after she was denied an abortion. A year later the law was amended to allow abortions in cases when a woman’s life is at risk—but didn’t allow the procedure in cases of rape or incest or fetal abnormality.

Friday’s vote came three years after the country legalized gay marriage, which marked another big shift from traditional Irish-Catholic values.

Irish citizens from all over the world flew to Ireland to vote in the referendum, and the hashtag #HomeToVote was trending on Twitter this week.

Irish actors including Saoirse Ronan, Cillian Murphy, and Liam Neeson have voiced their support for legalizing abortion in Ireland.

The campaign for the referendum also included non-Irish citizens. In the weeks leading up to the election, there were concerns that foreign entities, including groups in the US, were trying to influence Irish voters. Amnesty International Ireland and the Abortion Rights Campaign, for instance, were required to return political grants of $150,000 and $25,000, respectively, to George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Government-transparency group Transparent Referendum Initiative and UK-based news org openDemocracy also exposed a slew of Facebook ads run in Ireland, purchased by non-Irish accounts.

Legal abortion will likely continue to be a contentious topic in Ireland, as it is in the US. But advocates say the vote represents a changing tone in Ireland’s politics. People from all over the world celebrated on social media after the results came in Saturday morning, and people in Ireland flooded the streets.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend