Ireland has made significant progress on social issues in the past few years. Once known as a very Catholic country, it has now caught up to other Western European countries in a matter of a few years.
In 2015, Ireland was the first country to bring in marriage equality by popular vote. Sixty-two percent of voters nationwide voted yes in favor. Every constituency in Ireland, except for Roscommon-South Leitrim had a majority yes vote.
This past May, history was made once again with Irish people overwhelmingly voting in favor of repealing the 8th Amendment, which banned abortion in all circumstances except for mother’s life or mental health. However, these exceptions are very rare – notably Savita Halappanavar died in 2012 due to complications from a septic miscarriage.
This law left women with the choice between keeping the baby, an unsafe abortion at home, or traveling to England to get an abortion. If a woman got an abortion and was found out, she could face a 14-year prison sentence.
Right before the vote, the mood in Ireland was very tense and divided, with signs from each the ‘no’ and ‘yes’ sides on pretty much every street in every town and city and enthusiastic canvassers handing out leaflets and knocking on doors. Women from all backgrounds told their stories or stories of other women they knew who had a crisis pregnancy.
The referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment passed by an even larger margin than the marriage equality vote, with 66 percent of the country, a supermajority. Like in the marriage equality vote, the abortion rights vote passed in every constituency except for one, this time County Donegal, the northernmost county in the Republic of Ireland.
In the few months since, politicians have been discussing how abortion will fit into the healthcare system in Ireland. On September 18, President Michael D. Higgins officially removed the 8th Amendment from the constitution. Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed on September 19 that abortions would be available free of charge as part of the public healthcare services.
On September 29, the first March for Choice since the referendum took place, with thousands marching in the streets of Dublin celebrating the progress that had been made, but also calling for legislation to be written so women can access abortion freely, safely, and legally.
Abortion Rights Campaign spokeswoman Linda Kavanagh told the Irish Examiner that the first hurdle in the fight for abortion rights has been overcome, but the war is not yet over, as abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland. Kavanagh said “We’re an all-Ireland campaign. Northern Ireland has made great strides this year, as have we.”
Meanwhile, in America Republicans have been curtailing women’s rights across the country. For years, Republicans have tried to defund Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that is not only the nation’s largest abortion provider but also provides vital health services for low-income women like prescribing birth control and cancer screenings.
Abortion clinics have been closed in multiple states, especially in underserved rural areas in the South and Middle America. As of 2017, seven states have only one abortion clinic open: Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Mississippi.
Abortion rights aren’t just under attack in these states but across the country. Because of the Roe v. Wade decision, legislators cannot outright ban abortion, but they are doing everything in their power to effectively ban it by placing restrictions and making women jump through hoops: implementing mandatory waiting periods, requiring the father’s consent, ultrasounds, and requiring women to listen to the fetus’ heartbeat.
On the eve of the March for Life, a pro-life march held every year since 1974 – the year after the Roe v. Wade decision, Mike Pence said Donald Trump was the “most pro-life president in American history.” President Trump was the first sitting president to appear at the march. He expanded the global gag rule, supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood, appointed a pro-life Supreme Court justice, and nominated pro-life judge Brett Kavanaugh, who multiple women accused of sexual misconduct.
However, this is one of multiple issues that President Trump has changed his mind about. In a 1999 interview, he said he was “very pro-choice.” This change is likely an appeal to the religious right.
Many Republicans are against abortion because they believe that life begins at conception, their religion is against it, or they don’t believe women should have bodily autonomy when the life of a fetus is in question. One would think that free, safe, and legal abortions would be compatible with Republicans’ fiscal conservatism – cutting government spending on safety nets.
Though the cultural currents are changing in countries like Ireland, it appears that America is moving backward.