Ireland’s Prime Minister explains why he’ll be voting to repeal the Eighth Amendment

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Moya Crockett
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“I think they genuinely believed it would save lives and stop abortions, but it hasn’t.” 

Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, has given an interview in which he outlines why he wants to legalise abortion.

Ireland will go to the polls on Friday to vote in a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, the constitutional provision which effectively bans abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances. Speaking to the Irish Mirror, Varadkar – who was a GP before becoming leader of Ireland – said that he would be voting ‘Yes’ to repealing the Eighth Amendment.

“Abortion in Ireland is a reality,” he said. “When people put the Eighth Amendment into the Constitution back in 1983 I think they genuinely believed it would save lives and stop abortions, but it hasn’t.”

In 2016, more than 3,000 women gave Irish addresses at abortion clinics in the UK, according to the Department of Health. It’s thought that the actual number of women travelling from Ireland to access legal terminations is much higher than that, as not all women will provide their real addresses when having an abortion – and some travel to other countries, such as the Netherlands.

Abortions also take place in Ireland, despite the procedure being banned. A 2016 report shows that over 1,600 abortion pill packages were sent to Ireland between 2010 and 2012 by a single provider. This suggests that many women who either cannot or do not want to leave the country to terminate a pregnancy are self-inducing illegal medical abortions at home.

Varadkar said that women who take illegal abortion pills in Ireland are being put at risk by the Eighth Amendment, because they feel unable to visit a doctor if they experience complications. The maximum sentence for having an abortion in Ireland is 14 years in prison.

“There are women, and doctors say this to me, who have complications, have heavy bleeding afterwards, have taken the tablet, and are afraid to tell their doctor, or afraid to tell anyone, because it’s a crime,” said the Taoiseach.

A poster in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment in Dublin 

Varadkar said that he decided to vote ‘Yes’ to repealing the Eighth Amendment based on conversations with female family and friends, as well as his experience as a doctor. He worked in hospitals in Dublin while training to be a medic, and spent time on maternity wards.

During these periods, he said he met several pregnant women whose foetuses had fatal abnormalities. These women were forced to carry the baby to term, even though it stood no chance of surviving.

“When I was working in Holles Street [Ireland’s national maternity hospital] I would’ve come across the whole issue of fatal foetal abnormality where a couple, almost always a very wanted pregnancy, and they’d find out that the child they were expecting had a very serious illness and wasn’t going to survive in the womb, or wasn’t going to survive for long after birth,” he said.

Varadkar said that while the doctors at Holles Street were always compassionate and tried to make the experience as non-traumatic as possible, they were not able to allow the couple to end the pregnancy: 

“What we couldn’t do is [help] where the couple wanted to end the pregnancy now and not have to go through 20 or 30 weeks of telling people that the baby isn’t alive,” he said. “Can you imagine what that’s like?”

He added: “It certainly felt wrong.”

To find out more about the upcoming abortion referendum, click here.

Images: Getty Images