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The vote for the right to choose is a great victory in Ireland as 66.4 percent (1,429,981 to 723,632) voted ‘yes’ in a high turnout. Amongst 18 to 24 years old 87 percent voted for ‘yes’. Only one rural area, Donegal, voted ‘no’.

By International Socialist League.

 

Voters were asked if they wanted to scrap a 1983 amendment that gives an unborn child and its mother equal rights to life and 14 years in jail for convicted women. The result was a complete reversal of the 1983 referendum. This is a crushing defeat for the Catholic church, which is why up to now the Pope has remained silent.

Women, if the Irish parliament (the Dáil) carries through result into law, will have the right to request an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or 24 weeks in special situations.

Many Irish women had spoken out against the brutality of the abortion law during the campaign. Mairéad Ní Riagáin said, “a woman with a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality will be forced to travel to get the care they need; doctors can take a woman to court while she is in labour over the method of birth; a family may have to go to court to get their daughter’s/wife’s life support switched off if she was pregnant; a survivor of rape who is pregnant as a result will have the additional trauma of being forced to travel abroad; and our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives who can’t travel will continue to put their lives in danger and risk jail time by seeking out unsafe methods out of desperation. Surely no one wants to continue living in such an unsafe and cruel country.” [1]

This is a victory for workers, the poor, and those with precarious or no jobs and immigrants. Ian Sewell, 26, who travelled back from England to vote yes said, “I don’t think we are voting on whether people can have abortions; we are voting on whether poor women can have abortions, because rich people already travel to England,”[2]

So, why the dramatic change?

Caroline Ryan, one of the first to vote, told the Guardian that the “vote was a reminder, she said, of the church’s loosening grip on a country where a series of scandals, involving child abuse and mistreatment of pregnant, unmarried women and their children, have hugely undermined the clergy’s authority.”

The Catholic church had long been used by British imperialism to maintain its control over Ireland, but after the division of the country in 1921, the new Irish state sought to maintain the grip of religion. Éamon de Valera (head of government from 1932 to 1948) famously proclaimed Ireland to be a “Catholic nation”. This control was clearly shown by Ken Loach’s film Jimmy’s Hall.

Stories have repeatedly surfaced of sexual abuse of boys and girls in the care of the church, and of convents that took children away from those women who gave birth out of wedlock such as those popularised by the novel The Lost Child of Philomena Lee Martin Sixsmith, and the subsequent film Philomena:

“After giving birth, the girls were allowed to leave the convent only if they or their family could pay the nuns £100. It was a substantial sum, and those who couldn’t afford it – the vast majority – were kept in the convent for three years, working in kitchens, greenhouses and laundries or making rosary beads and religious artefacts, while the church kept the profits from their labour.”[3]

They also kept the profits from the sale of babies. “Even crueller than the work was the fact that mothers had to care for their children, developing maternal ties and affection that were to be torn asunder at the end of their three-year sentence.”[4]

The Catholic church had unshakable links with the state: politicians, the police and the courts, it is not so strong today but it remains an important influence in the legal, education and health systems, and in the Dáil. So, it remains important to mobilise to insist that result of the referendum is made law.

UK under pressure

Irish women and men in voting ‘yes’ joined the international struggle for women’s right to choose. That fight for democratic rights is deepening, and already posing questions elsewhere.

The aftermath is not only a blow to the reactionary Irish Catholic church but also for the Tory government. The immediate response of Theresa May was to oppose plans to let MPs vote to change northern Ireland’s oppressive abortion laws because she says they cannot interfere. Although in Scotland the PM is seeking to take national rights away ‘because’ of the deepening crisis over Brexit, the DUP’s (Democratic Unionist party) anti-abortion position will go unchallenged by the government because the Tory government clings on to power with their assistance.

Northern Ireland has one of the world’s most restrictive laws on abortion — women face life imprisonment. The north bans abortion even in cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal impairment. However, there are increasing demands for the right to choose in Northern Ireland and the ‘yes’ victory can encourage mobilisations for that right.

At the same time, because of the deepening feeling for a united Ireland, Sinn Féin – that for a long time have forgotten the fight for a united Ireland – is now calling for a referendum, north and south of the border on this historical democratic right of the Irish people, artificially divided in 1921. But to ask for a referendum is not enough, it’s necessary to organise the northern population and call for a united struggle with the population of the south against UK imperialism and its DUP puppet.

***

Originally published @ Socialist Voice – ISL UK.

Notes:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/23/vote-to-end-ireland-cruelty-on-abortion

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/25/ireland-abortion-referendum-polling-day-await-result

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/sep/19/catholic-church-sold-child.

[4] Ibid