Ireland legalizes abortion as social media, millennials influence the polls

How did an 80 percent Catholic country vote in favor of this referendum?
By Annabelle Azadé    Published on 05/30/2018 at 5:21 PM EDT
Cork, Ireland - Yes and No posters for the 25th of May referendum regarding the issue of abortion, near the Fatima and the three little shepherds statue in Blackpool. Shutterstock

Within three years, Ireland–one of Europe’s most conservative countries– has made two bold progressive moves: in 2015, legalizing gay marriage, and last weekend, when more than 60 percent of Irish citizens voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion.

As a result of this referendum, women in Ireland–just like women in most European countries–will now have the right to proceed with any medical intervention until the twelfth week of pregnancy. The referendum is now awaiting being signed into the law.

So how did this happen?

It seems that a more globalized and less traditional generation is influencing the polls. This referendum spread passion amongst Irish citizens and in the international community. The United Kingdom, European countries and the States all had their eyes on the results.

Thousands of Irish expatriates–not permitted to vote via absentee ballots–returned to Ireland to vote: their #HomeToVoteYes became a top trending hashtag for weeks on Twitter.  Irish social media users also launched the hashtag #Repealthe8th, encouraging millennials to go to polls. Additionally, the story of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year-old Irish woman who had been denied abortion and had died of septicemia in 2012, was widely shared, helping the “yes” advocates to raise awareness.

Aside from the social media component that elevated visibility for the referendum, the shifting religious practices of millennials also may be a factor. In The Guardian, archbishops acknowledged how dramatic this result is for the Catholic Church. “For some years we have been aware of a drift away from our congregations,” said the archbishop of Armagh  during an interview for RTÉ radio, adding that there was a “changed culture.” The repealing of the 8th Amendment illustrates this shift, of people moving away from traditional religion and toward global citizenry and responsibility.

The battle may be over in Ireland, but continues in other places. Northern Ireland and Poland have now become the two only remaining places in Europe where abortion is illegal except for in extreme critical circumstances; some hope Ireland’s historic referendum could pressure political leadership in Northern Ireland to make a similar decision. Also, 25% of the countries in the world still forbid abortion and even some U.S. states have abortion bans: just this week, “the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to an Arkansas abortion law that, in practice, bars abortions by pill instead of by surgical procedure,” NPR reported.  

U.S. states across the country have varying laws about if and when pregnancies can be terminated, and by what means; to learn more about what your state’s policies are regarding pregnancy termination, see this chart from Medscape.

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