Ireland remains a predominantly Catholic country. Although a 2016 census found that the total number of people identifying as Catholic fell by 132,200 between 2011 and 2016 (a decline that corresponds with the rise in those who identify as having no religion), an overwhelming 78.3 percent still identifies with the Church. But the extent to which the religion’s beliefs and practices govern Irish society has, over the years, undergone a gradual shift—one that some attribute to the weakening of the Church’s status following revelations of clerical child abuse in the 1990s. This shift was marked by a number of other milestones regarded as proof of Ireland’s mounting progressivism, from its 2015 referendum legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015, to the election of Varadkar, the county’s first openly gay premier, in June.
“For a lot of people, myself included, there was a great sense of hope after the marriage-equality referendum passed that finally the Eighth Amendment could be addressed head-on,” Lanigan said. “There’s definitely a sense that with progress comes other progress. … The vast majority of the Irish population voted for it, even though the majority of the Irish population still identifies as Catholic, so that shows that being Catholic and being progressive are not mutually exclusive.”
Indeed, a March survey conducted by the Irish Times and pollster Ipsos MRBI found that an overwhelming majority of Irish people believe the country’s constitutional ban needs reform to account for certain circumstances, though they still reject the idea of legalizing abortion outright. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed said the Eighth Amendment should repealed, wheres 38 percent said it should instead be replaced with another amendment allowing for greater access. Sixteen percent said it should not be repealed at all.
Ailbhe Smyth, a co-founder and chair of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, told me pro-choice advocates regard repealing the amendment as the “crucial first step” to reforming abortion access in Ireland, noting that a failure to do so would force women to seek abortions by illegal means or by leaving the country—an option some 5,000 women avail themselves of every year. “What we actually say to women is, ‘Abortion is wrong, thou shalt not have an abortion because it’s a crime. However, we don’t mind if you go to some other country and have an abortion, and you can come back to Ireland and we won’t prosecute you for that,” Smyth said. “We can pretend it doesn’t happen here, but it does. It’s just that we outsource the doing to another country.”
She added: “We are really living in what can only be called a state of dishonesty. People say it’s hypocritical, but it’s a little bit worse than that.”
I raised this point with Sherlock, who told me the Pro Life Campaign is opposed to “abortion anywhere,” adding that: “We’re not trying to stop anyone from traveling. That’s not something we’re doing in Ireland. … Just because something that we don’t agree with in this country is legal elsewhere is not a reason for us to do it here.”