Ireland will debut the new year with a law of decriminalization of abortion that on Thursday night, and after a heated debate of ten hours, culminated its parliamentary procedure in the Senate. The new regulations, and only pending the signature of the President of the Republic, responds to the accelerated modernization of a society that only in recent years has endorsed contraceptive methods, divorce and equal marriage and that in the referendum seven months he pronounced forcefully in favor of legalizing the termination of pregnancy.
Two months of debates in the two chambers of Parliament during which three and a half hundred amendments were raised have been necessary to seal a rule that contemplates legal abortion in the first twelve weeks of gestation without the woman having to justify his decision.
This period may be extended up to six months in extreme cases of danger to the life or health of the mother or if the fetus could not survive outside the woman’s body. One of the few amendments that ended up prospering eliminates the requirement initially stated that the doctor certifying an abortion is the same one who practices it.
Formally, what the citizens voted for in the plebiscite last May was the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution that almost completely prohibits abortion by equating the right to life of the mother with that of the fetus. One of the recent cases that provoked more mobilizations against this constitutional precept was that of Savita Halappanavar, who in 2012 died of septicemia after being denied abortion.
The question that was most stressed during the referendum campaign last spring was, however, the hypocrisy of a society anchored in Catholic conservatism that for decades looked the other way while thousands of women were forced to move to others countries to interrupt their pregnancy (most to Liverpool, the nearest English city).
It is estimated that in the last quarter of a century, 170,000 pregnant women have made these “solitary trips”, as defined by the Irish Minister of Health, Simon Harris, when congratulating themselves on the imminent implementation of an abortion law that will put an end to them. “Today we tell you that we will be the ones who will take care of them,” added an emotional Harris.
The Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, understands that the bulk of the citizens expressed their support for the new law in that May vote that has been described as “silent revolution”. In an Ireland where 78% of the population declares itself to be Catholic, but also where the Church has seen its moral authority diminished in the wake of scandals of sexual abuse by the clergy, two out of every three suffrages (66.4% ) were pronounced for the abolition of the Eighth Amendment. He did win in all the circumscriptions except one (Donegal, and with an adjusted result), between women and men, also among all age groups except for those over 65.
Although still influential, the Church barely campaigned against and its members opted in many cases for silence. The political class, for its part, generally declared itself in favor of modernization or, as in the case of the two dominant parties (Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael) opted to leave the decision to the “conscience” of their voters, without issue slogans.
The outcome of the referendum, and its consequences that will be reflected in the final promulgation of the law, expected at the end of the year, reduces the situation in the northern neighbor to an anomaly. Because the citizens of Ulster, where the restrictive regulations prevent abortion even in cases of rape or fatal anomaly of the fetus, are still forced to move to other places if they want to interrupt a pregnancy.
The position of the majority party in the British autonomous province (the radical unionists of the DUP) for the moment restrains any reconsideration of the matter, while on the other side of the border the Republic has just passed legislation that is aligned with that of most of the European countries.
“We want a modern Constitution for a modern country,” has been the sentence of Leo Varadkar, the youngest prime minister in the history of Ireland, a homosexual and the son of an Indian immigrant. He himself is a reflection of the enormous transformation of a country in which young people, women and cosmopolitan generations are defeating the most conservative Catholicism.