Last year, Ireland became the first country to legalize gay marriage by popular vote—a remarkable victory in a country where the Catholic church has historically wielded a great deal of power. But while Irish citizens may be drifting from the church, the country’s strict abortion ban shows that Catholicism retains influence over their everyday lives.
The tension between Ireland’s religious past and the will of the public was on full display Saturday (Sept. 24), as thousands of people marched in Dublin and 20 other cities around the world to demand that Ireland increase access to abortion. Ireland currently permits abortion only if the life of the mother is at risk, one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the world. It lifted a complete ban on abortion in 2013.
Protesters are demanding that the Irish government hold a referendum to repeal the constitution’s 8th amendment, which prohibits abortion under almost all circumstances. Prime minister Enda Kenny plans to hold a citizens’ assembly next month to discuss the possibility.
In June, the United Nations’ human rights committee urged the Irish government to reform its laws and make abortions accessible. The committee found that Ireland’s abortion restrictions amounted to a human rights violation after a pregnant woman who was carrying a child with a fatal congenital defect had to travel to Britain for an abortion. Many other Irish women have also been forced to travel abroad for an abortion.
It’s also worth noting that restrictive abortion laws don’t even reduce abortions, according to 2016 data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group specializing in sexual and reproductive health. Countries where abortions are available on request registered 34 abortions for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15-44. That number was 37 for every 1,000 women in that age range in countries where abortion is only permitted to save a woman’s life, according to the organization.