Ireland Will Ring in the New Year With Free, Legal Abortion

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Wait, what is this warm, nice feeling in my heart? Some good news? My friends, yes: Abortion will be free and legal in Ireland starting in the new year, once the president signs off on the new legislation. Earlier this month, both the lower and upper houses of the Irish legislature voted to pass the law allowing a person to seek an abortion into the 12th week of pregnancy. The referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s constitution, which barred abortion, passed with sweeping support from progressive women and young people in May.

Member of Parliament Bríd Smith told Rewire.News that this is “one of those rare moments in life when you feel such joy, the sheer joy of beating back the Catholic Church’s agenda, really beating it back for once.”

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As of January 1, abortions will be legal at up to 12 weeks—after which point, abortions can still be performed if there are fatal fetal abnormalities present, or if two doctors sign off on the procedure, citing a serious risk to the pregnant person. A mandatory three-day waiting period is involved, which Smith noted could be used against those who seek out an abortion at close to 12-week deadline. But prior to the referendum vote in May, worse things had been proposed by anti-abortion groups, including making high school students watch anti-abortion propaganda DVDs. The Irish Times reported the DVDs contained “several graphic images of aborted foetuses, and an illustrated demonstration of abortions at various stages of pregnancy” and linked abortion to “women’s risk of suicide.”

Previously, the penalty for seeking an abortion was 14 years in jail. Criminalization remains a risk, even in the new legislation. From Rewire.News:

Another coming struggle is over the continued criminalization of abortions outside of the strict guidelines the new legislation puts in place. “There was a 14-year [jail] sentence for abortion put into the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which was brought in after Savita Halappanavar died in Galway,” Smith explains. In the new legislation, that 14-year sentence remains, “not for the woman or the pregnant person, but for the doctor or the midwife or whomever might perform an abortion outside of the parameters of the legislation. We want that gone because, if there is any uncertainty about dates, or it might be three days over 12 weeks or you might be 13 weeks, not 12, this will act as a serious chill factor on the medical services.”

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Rewire.News also notes that abortions will be free, not because Ireland has universal health care, but thanks to the 1950's Maternity and Infant Care Scheme, which in another affront to the Catholic Church, promised free maternal health care.

Doctors may still “conscientiously object” to performing abortions. However, the New York Times reports that those physicians are “require[d] to refer patients to others who are willing” under the new legislation.

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