We reprint below the editorial from Left Horizons, a socialist journal in the UK
From Left Horizons
Editorial: Magnificent victory for women in Ireland
The referendum result in favour of the repeal of the eighth constitutional amendment and in favour of choice, was a massive victory for women in Ireland and for the whole of the Irish working class. It was no less a symbolic victory and an inspiration to working class women everywhere.
Although political pundits had forecast a narrowing of the polls up to last Friday’s vote, in the end the result was overwhelming. The last-minute campaign of the Church and the advertisements financed by right-wing American evangelical groups were to no avail.
With one of the biggest-ever turnouts in any referendum – 64 per cent, the third highest since 1937 – ‘yes’ voters outnumbered the ‘no’ votes by two to one. It is an almost an exact reversal of the referendum vote in 1983 which passed the eighth amendment in the first place.
In all but one constituency, there was a ‘yes’ majority. Only Donegal in the north-west, out of a total of forty, voted ‘no’ and that only by a narrow margin. Women voted by 72 per cent in favour of a woman’s choice, as did over 65 per cent of men. Practically every demographic measured voted ‘yes’ with only the over 65-year-olds being the exception.
Among women between the ages of 18 and 35, the majority for ‘yes’ was a staggering 85 per cent. A simple mathematical calculation would show that had the franchise been restricted to women of child-bearing age – those for whom ‘choice’ has the greatest and most immediate relevance – the majority in favour of repeal would have been around 90 per cent!
It was truly inspiring to see so many Irish ex-patriates, and particularly young women, taking the trouble to fly back to Ireland to participate in the vote. It is not a cheap option, to buy a two-way air-fair, just to put a cross on a piece of paper. But the fact that so many thousands were prepared to do this is a testament to their commitment and the seriousness with which they took this issue. It was equally inspiring to see the large banners and the crowds, again chiefly of young women, welcoming their sisters home off the planes at Dublin Airport.
Tragic cases over the years
Attitudes to abortion in Ireland have hardened in recent years and it follows a history of disgraceful denial of women’s rights. There have been a number of very tragic public cases, such as that in 1991, when the Irish High Court prevented a 14-year old from travelling to the UK for an abortion, despite the fact that the young woman was suicidal and that her pregnancy was the result of rape. In 2012, a 31-year old woman died of sepsis after being denied an abortion by her medical team during a miscarriage. The doctors had waited – too long, it turned out – for the heart-beat of the foetus to cease, before they were allowed to terminate the pregnancy.
This huge majority is yet another indication, following the successful referendum to legalise same-sex marriage almost exactly three years ago, of the utter collapse of the political influence of the Catholic Church. Eamon Martin, the archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland, was forced to concede that the referendum had shown that “Irish culture had changed” and that people had “drifted away” from the Church. But it has not been so much a “drift” as a stampede, as the Church was rocked by one scandal after another in the last twenty years.
Six years ago, the Catholic Herald could already see the writing on the wall, as it reported on a survey conducted by the Church itself. “As recently as 1984” it reported, “87 per cent of Irish Catholics attended Mass weekly. Now, only a minority do so. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin last year noted that on any given Sunday only about 18 per cent of the Catholic population of Dublin attends Mass – down to 2 per cent in some areas”. The brink has already been reached, he added, “The Catholic Church in Ireland will inevitably become more a minority culture.” Nowadays, the archbishop had added ruefully, “many Irish Catholics, including priests, hold beliefs contrary to Catholic teaching”. Catholicism might remain a part of the family and cultural tradition of Ireland, but the reactionary political influence of the Church is decisively broken.
Attention switches now to Northern Ireland, the last bastion in Western Europe, of the denial of a women’s rights. Whereas in the past thousands of women would have travelled to the UK from the Irish Republic, without a change in the law, it now is likely that women from the North will go to the Irish Republic for a termination.
The Labour Party leadership in Britain has quite correctly, called on Theresa May to pass legislation to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK and the Republic. Already, pressure from women MPs has forced May into agreeing that the UK National Health Service would bear the costs of any treatment women from Northern Ireland would seek in Britain. But this is not good enough. The Tories must be made to pass legislation to offer women in the North the same rights they have in Britain and as they will soon have in the Republic.
“…change the world!”
It is not to exaggerate or engage in hyperbole to say that in terms of the shift in consciousness among women and among working class people as a whole, the referendum has an historic significance. It is a part of a growing awareness that democratic rights are there to be won, and that it applies equally well to social and economic rights. Many of those engaged in the enthusiastic and energetic Yes campaign, particularly working-class youth, and particularly young women, could now switch their attentions to the housing crisis, austerity and other issues in the Republic.
One young woman, quoted in the Financial Times, is no doubt typical. “I had never campaigned for anything in my life,” she said, “and suddenly I found myself leading a group of obstreperous women.” She added that it was a “new day” in Ireland. “This is a desire among the people of Ireland, particularly among young people, particularly among women, that they want to change the world!”
It is through struggles and experiences like this referendum campaign that working-class people will come to realise their enormous strength and their real potential. The marvellous referendum result last week was in that sense an important step along the road in the struggle for socialism in Ireland and internationally.