How an Indian woman's death led to a referendum in Ireland

Friday, 25 May, 2018

She has taken the last five months off work to campaign to keep the Eighth Amendment in the constitution.

There were 16 reported legal abortions in Northern Ireland last year, while thousands of women travel to other parts of the United Kingdom for legal terminations each year.

What does the current law say?

"To be against abortion is not simply 'a Catholic thing, '" wrote Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Primate of All Ireland, in a May 19 statement.

The referendum will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed or stays in place.

Voters are being asked if they wish to scrap a 1983 amendment to the constitution that gives an unborn child and its mother equal rights to life. "If the referendum doesn't pass these women will continue to have to travel overseas in their thousands". The vast majority of these are performed before 13 weeks, or the first trimester.

Alternatively, many Irish women seek alternative methods to end unwanted pregnancies, such as ordering abortion pills online.

In 2012, the death of Savita Halappanavar +, a 31-year-old Indian dentist, from complications following the hospital's refusal to conduct an abortion to save her life triggered widespread outrage.

At a press conference organized by Together for Yes, the mother of a 25-year-old woman with type-one diabetes and polycystic ovaries-who had been taking contraceptive pills, recently hospitalized with a serious illness, and told by doctors that an unplanned pregnancy could be risky for her-shared a story about ordering abortion pills for her daughter on the internet. A short time later she was told a miscarriage was inevitable. And Catholics are the most likely to be undecided - 15 percent answering don't know or preferring not to say, against 5 percent of those with no religion.

"Under Irish law, if there's no evidence of risk to the life of the mother, our hands are tied as long there's a foetal heart [beat]", a consultant said, according to The Guardian.

If citizens vote in favor of repeal, new abortion laws will then be discussed in parliament.

What would the changes mean?

Although not on the ballot paper, the "No" camp has seized on government plans to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy if the referendum is carried, calling it a human rights issue and a step too far for most voters.

Medically speaking, it is extremely hard to diagnose any kind of disability within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Polls have opened in a referendum that could change Ireland forever. The government has proposed that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with later abortions permitted only in limited cases.

"I can't vote in this referendum because Ireland has residency laws around when you can vote, so I'm ineligible because I'm committed to Melbourne and I live there", Ms Cooke said.

Ms Woods supports abortion "as a Catholic" even while disagreeing with Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life - the foundation of all human rights.

In a heartwarming trend, dozens of good Samaritans back home in Ireland have offered to sponsor strangers who otherwise can't afford to get home to vote.

Many have paid for flights for students studying overseas, and others on the ground are offering to collect people from airports and take them to polling booths.