[Dublin 16 May 2019] Under the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution abortion was banned in almost all circumstances. One year ago, on the 25th May 2018, the Irish people voted by a landslide to remove the 8th. The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) was one of the three organisations, alongside the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment and the Abortion Rights Campaign, which formed ‘Together for Yes’, the national civil society ‘Yes’ campaign.
Women’s rights are always hard fought, and hard won, yet the success of the Together for Yes campaign can act as a light for those still fighting for their rights.
Building on 35 years of work, the Together for Yes campaign was momentous; both in paving the way for the introduction of abortion in Ireland, and in how the campaign put women’s voices at its heart. The 8th Amendment was a cruel and restrictive law and, through the honesty and the lived experience of women and families who suffered, we generated a national conversation on the need for abortion services in Ireland.
It isn’t that long ago when we were told that abortion was one of the most divisive issues in Ireland and the hardest of women’s rights to address. The persistent, courage of women and the women’s movement - to oppose the 8th and then to come together in a unified progressive campaign – showed the world how change is always possible.
During the campaign we spoke to the values of people throughout the world – care, compassion and change. It turned what as seen as a contentious issue into one where people wanted to know more, to understand the experiences, to discuss the solutions. People’s natural empathy was well encapsulated in the final stages of the campaign when NWCI posed the question ‘Who needs your Yes?’ to the voters of Ireland.
The will of the Irish people, when 1.4 million votes to remove the 8th, finally enabled our country to recognise abortion as a core element of reproductive health. Following the vote, a new law was introduced providing for abortion in early pregnancy and in cases of a fatal foetal diagnosis or risk to the life/health of the woman. Six months after the vote abortion was available as a free public health service.
But this story is not over. Our abortion services must be women-centred and we are actively monitoring how the legislation operates in reality. And our work continues advocating for our sisters in the North of Ireland who cannot access legal abortion and are still travelling, just as women have travelled across the Irish Sea for decades.
In NWCI we know women’s organisations and movements across Europe and globally have drawn hope and inspiration from Ireland’s referendum campaign. Our experience shows the potential for activism to achieve change for women and for all of society.