Thousands Rally in Dublin Against Ireland’s Abortion Ban

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Demonstrators in Dublin on Saturday. One report put the number of protesters at 30,000. Credit Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Thousands of people marched in Dublin on Saturday to demand an end to the country’s constitutional ban on abortion, one of the strictest such laws in the Western world.

The March for Choice is an annual protest against the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which enshrines a ban on abortions, but this year it was held just days after the government announced it would hold a referendum next year that could potentially change the law.

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Protesters in London tallied with chalk the number of Irish women who have traveled to England to have abortions. Credit Chris J Ratcliffe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Saturday’s rally in Ireland’s capital drew demonstrators from across the country and led to solidarity events in several British cities. Crowds marched through the streets chanting slogans like “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” — a reference to the historical influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the country’s laws.

An Irish Times report estimated that 30,000 people took part. Counterdemonstrators, in small numbers, handed out fliers.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, announced Tuesday that a referendum would be held in 2018 on whether to legalize abortion, at least in some circumstances. The wording of the referendum has yet to be determined, leaving uncertainty over how far it would go in overturning the restrictions.

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Saturday’s march in Dublin was the first since the government announced it would hold a referendum next year on the abortion ban. Credit Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

The Eighth Amendment, passed in 1983, gives an unborn child a right to life equal to that of its mother. At the time, Ireland was seen as one of the most conservative Catholic nations in the world, but a series of church scandals and growing secularism have the country rethinking many of its government’s positions. The United Nations has called the amendment a violation of women’s rights.

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Thousands of Irish women travel to Britain annually for abortions.

In Ireland, abortions are allowed only when the life of the mother is at risk, though critics say heavy penalties and a lack of clarity around the law pose risks for pregnant women.

The death in 2012 of Savita Halappanavar, a dentist who was 17 weeks pregnant, both reignited the debate and galvanized a new generation of abortions rights advocates. Doctors at a hospital in Galway refused to terminate her pregnancy while she was having a miscarriage. She died of septicemia.

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“The referendum has kind of encouraged people to come out,” one demonstrator said. Credit Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Heather Browning, 27, who attended Saturday’s march, said conversations about abortion had become more commonplace in recent years.

“It has kind of been changing for a while. It’s become a much more mainstream thing to talk about,” said Ms. Browning, who described a relaxed atmosphere at Saturday’s event. “The referendum has kind of encouraged people to come out.”

Lisa Byrne, a 30-year-old from Dublin who also attended the march, said the campaign had evolved from a small group of mostly female activists to a more diverse group.

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The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution was the focus of the protest. Credit Paul Faith/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“It isn’t just young women in their 20s with trendy haircuts out here. It’s everyone,” Ms. Byrne said in a telephone interview. “I just saw a group of lads on their own, no women with them, who were marching together. You wouldn’t have seen that years ago.”

Ms. Byrne plans to vote in the 2018 referendum but fears a full repeal of the ban might not be on the table.

While comparisons have been made to Ireland’s 2015 referendum legalizing same-sex marriage, abortion rights advocates believe this issue will be more contentious.

“I think with the marriage equality, it was something that no one was scared to speak out on, but this is a very personal thing that people are more hesitant to speak about,” Ms. Byrne said. “That is not just an Irish thing, it’s international.”

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