Five years after Ireland’s historic abortion referendum, access to care is still ‘patchy’

By Niamh Kennedy and Emily Blumenthal, CNN
Thu May 25, 2023

In 2018, the Irish public voted overwhelmingly to repeal the country’s Eighth Amendment, overturning one of the strictest abortion bans in the European Union. There were scenes of jubilation as the referendum result was announced, with many in Ireland seeing it as a historic step that would give women control over their own bodies.

But five years on, although abortion is free and legally available in Ireland up to 12 weeks of pregnancy – after that allowed only in exceptional circumstances, if there is a risk to the mother’s life or the fetus is not expected to survive – the abortion system is still far from where campaigners and charities would like it to be.


Abortion: Ireland’s past is America’s future


This month, four years ago, media from across the globe descended on the courtyard of Dublin Castle. They traveled to capture the scene of thousands of Irish people celebrating the results of the Irish abortion referendum. A landslide majority had “repealed the 8th” and voted to change the country’s constitution to enable legal recognition of abortion rights for the first time in the state’s history. Generations of families cheered and cried together while politicians from warring parties embraced. Viewers abroad marveled at the displays of pride, rapture, and even love.  

To understand why the referendum result in Ireland prompted such
outpourings is to understand the full meaning of the right to abortion.


N. Ireland – Free, safe, legal, local

Emma Campbell describes the long fight for reproductive rights in Northern Ireland

March 24, 2021
Emma Campbell

Northern Ireland has finally emerged from the shadow of a British law that wreaked untold misery on the island of Ireland. On 22 October 2019, tired but buoyed, we celebrated that people were no longer at risk of being charged with a criminal offence for accessing an abortion. After a long struggle, the women of Northern Ireland now have the best abortion law in the UK and Ireland.

Sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act criminalised doctors and abortion seekers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with punishment up to ‘penal servitude for life’. This remained in place until the 1967 Abortion Act allowed abortion to carried out legally in certain circumstances, even if it wasn’t fully decriminalised.


Ireland – Anti-abortion protest sparks renewed calls for exclusion zones

Anti-abortion protest sparks renewed calls for exclusion zones
Simon Harris ‘appalled’ by protest by 100 people outside National Maternity Hospital

Wed, Jan 1, 2020
Paul Cullen

There have been renewed calls for the imposition of exclusion zones outside maternity units after anti-abortion activists protested outside the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin on New Year’s Day.

About 100 people, some carrying small crosses and banners, demonstrated outside the hospital on Holles Street for several hours on Wednesday.


N. Ireland – How We Won the Right to Choose

How We Won the Right to Choose

By Maev McDaid and Brian Christopher

Coming hot on the heels of Dublin’s repeal of anti-abortion laws, decriminalization in the North is a decisive victory for Irish feminists. The church and the state are losing their control over our bodies — but we still need to make abortion legal, safe, and free.

October 22 marked a decisive victory in the North of Ireland, as abortion was finally decriminalized. This news will surely have passed many people by — after all, in national as in international media, the North is almost only ever “represented” by the bigots in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). But last week, this stridently anti-choice party was finally overruled by the Westminster parliament. Its move to decriminalize abortion in the North came fifty years after a similar step was taken on the British mainland. Yet this success especially owes to decades of heroic struggles waged by Irish feminists.


Addressing stigma while moving a national campaign: Spotlight on Ireland

Addressing stigma while moving a national campaign: Spotlight on Ireland

Posted May 28, 2019
by inroads Comms, with Linda Kavanagh and the Abortion Right's Campaign

The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), played a very key role in the Repealing of the 8th Amendment and continues to be a key voice in grassroots activism and higher level policy advocacy for free, safe and legal abortions in the Republic of Ireland. At the same time, global solidarity has always been important for participants of the campaign in Ireland, and, due to shared common beliefs, many ARC members are also members of inroads. In fact, Katie Gillum, the inroads Executive Director, began her activism for abortion rights and access while serving as Co-Convenor to the ARC. The ARC is unique in that it practices non-hierarchical organization at all moments and therefore intrigues us to learn more.

In this piece, Linda Kavanagh, member of inroads, and other members of the ARC in the Republic of Ireland tell us more about the realities of their activism for abortion rights right now.

What will it take to totally humanize and normalize abortions in Ireland even post the victory to Repeal the 8th Amendment?

At our 2018 March for Choice, post-referendum but before services had been implemented, we took to the streets in our thousands to say our work is not done. Our then co-convener Denise O’Toole declared to the crowd we are here for “abortion on demand and without apology!”.


This abortion law isn’t what Ireland voted for

This abortion law isn't what Ireland voted for
The Dáil should listen to the voters, not generate red tape that could stop vulnerable people getting the care they need

Emer O’Toole
Tue 4 Dec 2018

In 1983, as the Irish electorate voted in favour of a constitutional ban on abortion, campaigners warned in bold print: “This Amendment Could Kill Women.”

It did.

Following the tragedy of Savita Halappanavar’s death in 2012, Irish politicians were forced to legislate on a 20-year-old supreme court decision, one that consecutive governments had conspicuously kicked into the long grass. In 1992, a judge had ruled that a suicidal teenage rape victim had the right to an abortion. When the government finally produced the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, it was so clearly unfit for purpose that the Abortion Rights Campaign doubted it would enable a suicidal teenage rape victim to access a termination at all.


Emma Watson on the global fight for reproductive justice

Emma Watson on the global fight for reproductive justice

Incredible Women
29 Sep '18

Emma Watson Writes A Letter To Savita Halappanavar

Although she made her name as an actor, Emma Watson has also been making a sizeable impact this year as an activist and agent of change, building on her record as an outspoken feminist who famously launched the ‘HeForShe’ campaign at the UN in 2014.

An advocate on issues ranging from violence against women to sustainability, she guest-edited the first-ever issue of Vogue (Australia) completely dedicated to sustainability, and catalyzed the UK Time’s Up network and the Justice and Equality Fund.


Ireland’s Path to Legalizing Abortion

Ireland’s Path to Legalizing Abortion
At a time when the United States may render it illegal

Shirley Graham
July 5, 2018

On May 25, 2018, I traveled from Washington, D.C., to Dublin to vote in a referendum that would decide whether women in Ireland would have full access to their reproductive healthcare and rights. I was one of the 40,000 diaspora Irish who returned from different corners of the globe (only recent emigres were eligible) to be part of a feminist movement that would make history. When the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was passed the next day with 66 percent voting in favor, the country heaved a collective sigh of relief.

In the lead-up to the referendum, women were forced to share previously untold stories of private ordeals and personal tragedies in order to persuade the Irish population that it could no longer export this problem to the United Kingdom.


From Ireland to Northern Ireland: campaigns for abortion law

From Ireland to Northern Ireland: campaigns for abortion law

Angel Li
Published: 16 June 2018
DOI: |

After Ireland successfully overturned its 8th Amendment using grassroots activism, attention turns to Northern Ireland's abortion laws. Angel Li reports from Dublin.

Sitting in a quiet carriage of a train to Gatwick Airport, my thoughts turned to the women taking this same route back to Ireland after travelling to the UK for abortions. I wondered if anyone was on this train for that very purpose. More than 170 000 women have travelled abroad from Ireland seeking abortions since 1980.

Having arrived at Gatwick Airport, I met two volunteers working with the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign who were taking the same flight to Dublin as me.