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The Irish government has announced that it will hold a referendum in May 2018 to determine whether the abortion laws in Ireland should be changed. Access to abortion is very limited in Ireland under the current regulations, which means that many women are forced to travel to the UK to seek a private abortion. Changing the law could have a significant effect on women’s health and rights.
The referendum will ask the Irish people whether they wish to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the constitution, which currently requires that the lives of the foetus and mother must be treated equally. Although abortion is a very emotive issue in Ireland, especially among religious communities, opinions have been changing rapidly. Recent opinion polls and public discussions have revealed that there is now widespread support in Ireland for a change to the law, which is currently very restrictive.
Abortion is only legal in Ireland if the woman’s life is at risk, and even then it can be difficult to get a doctor’s permission for a pregnancy termination. Women’s lives have sometimes been put at risk because of a delay in the process, which can allow serious complications to develop or worsen. The current law does not allow abortion for any other reason, even in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, incest or rape.
Although many women are unable to have a pregnancy termination in Ireland under the current law, abortion is allowed under certain circumstances. It is also possible to travel to the UK to visit a private abortion clinic. Arranging a private abortion overseas isn’t as convenient or affordable as being able to do it closer to home, although the clinic will help to make it as simple as possible. At the moment, travelling for an abortion is the only option for thousands of Irish women. However, after the referendum in May this could change.