Ireland Votes To Legalize Abortion

May 26, 2018
Originally published on May 27, 2018 4:00 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Ireland, where voters decided by a wide margin to repeal part of the constitution that effectively banned abortion. The results came in this afternoon after a referendum yesterday and a hard-fought battle in the weeks and months before the vote. Reporter Alice Fordham was in central Dublin as the announcement was made.

(CHEERING)

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: That was the moment when it was announced that two-thirds of voters in Friday's poll had voted to open up access to abortion in Ireland. In the courtyard of the historic Dublin Castle, campaigners wept and cheered.

JACKIE KELLY: Unbelievable. It's just unbelievable. We've dragged Ireland kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

FORDHAM: That's Jackie Kelly, who's a community social worker. She campaigned partly because while some women can afford to go abroad for abortions, many can't.

KELLY: It affects poorer people, people that are actually living on the margins of society.

RESISTANCE CHOIR: (Singing) As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead.

FORDHAM: While some people chanted through megaphones, this group, the Resistance Choir, sang as they held up a photograph of an Indian woman named Savita Halappanavar. Her image is everywhere today. She became an icon of those campaigning for abortion rights after she died in Ireland following complications in pregnancy.

RESISTANCE CHOIR: (Singing) The rising of the women is the rising of us all.

FORDHAM: Choir member Sean Loud says, while campaigning yesterday, he was convinced that this would be a landslide.

SEAN LOUD: It was totally clear that something big had happened, and it was absolutely phenomenal. It was historic and brilliant.

FORDHAM: Many said they felt this was Ireland's latest step away from being a country dominated by the Catholic Church, which, of course, opposes abortion. That's even those on the losing side. Earlier in the day, as Dublin's votes were being counted, I met Eoin Shanaghn, who had voted to keep abortion available only in a few circumstances. He had been a teacher of children with severe disabilities.

EOIN SHANAGHN: Yeah, I'm disappointed I suppose, all right. I'm disappointed.

FORDHAM: But he didn't seem very surprised.

SHANAGHN: Irish society is undergoing tremendous change. There's no question about that.

FORDHAM: Attituded to the church have changed since investigations revealed decades of child abuse, forced labor for unmarried mothers in church-run homes and forced adoption of their children. Here's Patsy McGarry, religious affairs correspondent at The Irish Times.

PATSY MCGARRY: Its authority is being deeply damaged by all of this. Now, Ireland was becoming more secular anyhow, with prosperity and education. But the scandals exacerbated the trend enormously to the degree that even on this very fraught issue of abortion, the church's authority is so, so much more diminished.

FORDHAM: When the country voted to legalize divorce in the 1990s, the margin of victory was very slim, whereas today's vote, on an issue that many consider more contentious, was a decisive victory for those seeking change. Back among the crowds of jubilant campaigners in Dublin, I meet Niall Waters, who was impressed by the margin.

NIALL WATERS: When the exit poll came out last night, like, I was very surprised of at how positive it was. It was great. It was brilliant.

FORDHAM: But he still wants change in Ireland's education system, which leans towards the religious.

WATERS: The next one is getting the church out of schools. That's the next one.

FORDHAM: But not tonight. Tonight, he'll be celebrating. For NPR News, I'm Alice Fordham in Dublin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.