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Ireland says it will hold referendum next year on its abortion ban
A pro-life protester displays a plastic doll representing a 12-week-old fetus in April 2016 outside the Marie Stopes Clinic on in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Ireland will hold a referendum next year on its constitutional ban on abortion. (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Ireland says it will hold referendum next year on its abortion ban

Ireland will hold a referendum next year on its constitutional ban on abortion, according to the New York Times.

The Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, passed in 1983, says an unborn child has a right to life equal to that of its mother.

According to Reuters, exceptions to the abortion ban are made for cases where there is a maternal mortality risk. According to the BBC, a woman convicted of having an illegal abortion in Ireland can face up to 14 years in prison, but “they are allowed to travel abroad for terminations.”

Critics of the law say that it is too restrictive. Some argue that abortion should be completely decriminalized, while others say more exceptions should be made for cases of rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities. Supporters say the law protects the right to life for all people.

The referendum

Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister (taoiseach), said a bill to amend the country’s Constitution will be prepared in the Irish Parliament, and the referendum will be held in May or June 2018.

"Any amendment to our Constitution requires careful consideration by the people,” Varadkar said in a statement, according to the BBC. "They should be given ample time to consider the issues and to take part in well-informed public debate."

Is there any indication what the outcome will be?

A May poll by the Irish Times found that a clear majority of Irish voters are against “abortion on request.” Just 23 percent of respondents in the poll said abortion should be legal in all circumstances, while 67 percent opposed legalizing abortion in all circumstances.

A majority of respondents said they would support broadening exemptions to the ban in limited circumstances, such as rape or incest. The poll also found that a vast majority — 73 percent — of respondents would support a 12-week gestational limit on any legal abortion procedures.

The New York Times noted that while a significant majority in Ireland describe themselves as Catholic, “few now adhere to the church’s teachings in matters like divorce, contraception, sex outside marriage or gay rights.”

In 2015, Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

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