Ireland’s vote on the contentious Eighth Amendment has happened, and a majority decided to legalize abortion in the formerly prolife country. More than 66 percent of the voters voted to overturn the current laws.
The vote leaves many across the country and the world wondering what comes next, and what this means on a practical level for the Irish people. Ireland’s society will be changing, and it’s important to know what this referendum actually addressed, and what the next likely legal and legislative steps for the country will be.
This Was a First-Trimester Referendum
Once implemented, the referendum will allow abortions through the 12th week of pregnancy, or the end of the first trimester. Also planned to be allowed are special-case abortions, for health of the mother and other exceptions. This referendum does not address second- and third-trimester elective abortions.
If Irish abortions follow the trends of the United States and other countries where abortion is legal, mothers’ first trimester is where the biggest percentage of abortions happen, often well over 90 percent. Making abortion legal in only the first trimester will still allow most Irish women who want an abortion to obtain one in their home country, instead of traveling to nearby England.
In England, abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy—or past a child’s viability outside his mother—has been legal since 1967. Yearly, 1,000 Irish women have been traveling to England for an abortion.
Late-Term Abortions Are Banned Under This Act
Breaking News Ireland says “Simon Harris (Ireland’s Health Minister) has said the requirement to certify that the foetus has not reached viability is an effective ban on later term abortions. If viability is established and the pregnancy is ended on health grounds then it will be done through early delivery, with a full medical team on hand.”
It’s important to note this distinction from other countries’ abortion laws. Ireland plans to require all abortions past the point of viability, typically around 22 weeks of gestation, to be delivered instead of aborted, and for doctors to try to save these babies’ lives.
The President Still Needs to Sign the Order
In Ireland, the next step is for President Michael D. Higgins to sign the order written by Health Minister Simon Harris, and Higgins is expected to sign it. The order will be ready sometime before July, according to Irish sources, and it’s expected to pass through Ireland’s legislative houses, the Dáil and Seanad, despite lingering opposition.
As these measures work through the legislative process, the current law, called the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, will be upheld, and abortion will still be illegal. Once passed, women in Ireland will be able to obtain first-trimester abortions in Irish hospitals.
How Irish Women Will Eventually Obtain Abortions
After the measure becomes law, there will be an enforced wait period for abortions. Women who want or need an abortion must wait 72 hours from their first doctor visit until the abortion. During this time, doctors can provide counseling, tests, and ultrasounds. The intention for this wait period is for women to make an informed and thoughtful decision.
Women will need to be examined and the pregnancy dated. Doctors will need to verify that women are 12 weeks pregnant or less, or 10 weeks into pregnancy from conception (most medical professionals date pregnancies from the mother’s last menstruation even though the child isn’t created until after ovulation, which happens around two weeks afterward).
Abortions outside this window will only be allowed if they meet criteria that is still being decided, but will include exceptions for the health of the mother, including mental health and chronic medical conditions. In these cases, two doctors will need to agree that the abortion is medically necessary. One will need to be an obstetrician, and one a specialist in the medical condition from which the woman claims danger.
The obstetrician will be the one to perform the abortion, which must happen before the baby is viable. Otherwise the baby will be delivered. Similarly, if the mother seeks an abortion because of abnormalities or disabilities with the baby, two doctors must agree on the baby’s condition. In the current plan, doctors will follow up with women, and offer post-abortion care.
Women outside of Ireland’s medical card system will have to pay for the doctor visits and clinic and hospital bills for the procedures, unlike in Great Britain’s socialized National Health System.
The situation in Ireland will continue to change, and it’s possible that the currently proposed procedures will shift as politicians finalize the details. It’s clear, however, that abortion will soon be legal in Ireland.