Ireland Abortion Referendum: Changing For People’s Welfare

Abortion Referral Ban ,Student Activist

Ireland Abortion Referendum result sets up a fine example for other nations, to stand up for the change they want to see in their society. 66.4 per cent of voters opted to repeal the eighth amendment, which bestowed an equal right to life of the pregnant woman and her unborn child. Hence, women could not elect for abortion even in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality. The proposed legislation, however, will allow abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to the 24th week in exceptional circumstances.

It was not an easy journey for the “Yes” campaigners as Ireland is popular for its conservative outlook. Also, this is not the first time Ireland has changed its outlook and amendments for its citizen’s welfare.

Ireland has changed a lot in last 40 years or so

Four decades ago, Ireland was a much different place than it is today. But instead of steadfastly holding on to beliefs which put the welfare of its population at risk, Ireland and its people took matters into their own hand to put an end to these regressive laws, one step at a time. From legalising contraceptives in 1979, to decriminalising homosexuality in 1993 and legalising divorce and same-sex marriages in 1996 and 2015 respectively, they have come a long way.

Such changes do not happen overnight. So what is it that Ireland has got right, but we haven’t?

Why is it that despite years of protests and pleads to our lawmakers, homosexuality is still a crime in our country, but marital rape is not? Are we unwilling to change? Or is it that our cries of social reforms get phased out amidst other political and communal agendas?

Power to change doesn’t lie with people in our country

A major difference here is that the power to make a change does not lie with us in our country. The legalisation of abortion, same-sex marriages or divorce came into effect after the citizens of Ireland handed down their mandate to their government. The questions did not bounce from legislative bodies to the Supreme Court, as they do in our country. The Irish citizens were asked “Yes or NO” questions directly for all the said referendums. And once they made their inclinations clear, changes in the amendments followed.

All Indian people have is the power to vote in every five years. We vote with the hope that the party we elect will find some solution to remove the legal clogs in the system and work for greater good. Governments change, but the state of affairs in our country doesn’t.

Another aspect is our own will to change. How many people in India want decriminalisation of homosexuality, or criminalisation of marital rape?

A lot of people still hold dearly to their conservative mindset, hampering liberalisation of Indian society and women’s empowerment. Despite criminalisation of dowry or female infanticide, these practices are still quite common in our country.  This hints that the common public does not feel inclined to embrace social reforms. So even if we manage to criminalise marital rape, it doesn’t mean that it would cease to exist.

Also, people in our country just don’t value their vote. They lack the will to step out stand for the change they want to see. The best turnout elections have seen in our country was in 2014, when some 66.38% of the total eligible voting population turned out at polling booths.

The truth is that we Indians lack general awareness about the necessity of these social reforms.

We are so busy fighting each other over political differences, that improvement in our society is of no value to most of us. We lack the will to change and the will to stand up and vote for the change. So even if we were given the power of making a social reform, little would actually change. This shows that change should not start by giving people the power to make a social change. It should start by creating an awareness about social causes and invoking a will to change for the welfare of the society.

Photo Credit: The Cambridge Student

Also Read: Ireland overturns strict abortion laws as masses celebrate

Dr Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own