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After Historic Vote, Ireland Moves Forward To Repeal Abortion Ban


After a historic vote, Ireland is moving forward today with steps to repeal its longtime ban on abortion. Ireland's health minister is meeting with the Irish Cabinet to begin to draft legislation for a new abortion law. This comes days after two-thirds of the country voted to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution there, which had banned abortion. Joining us now is Fintan O'Toole. He's a columnist for The Irish Times. Thanks so much for being with us.

FINTAN O'TOOLE: It's a pleasure, Rachel.

MARTIN: After this vote, you wrote in The Times the following sentence - quote, "this is the end of Irish exceptionalism. The Ireland of absolutes is dead and gone." Can you explain more what that means?

O'TOOLE: Yeah. I suppose one of the reasons why Ireland had such extreme abortion laws - I mean, banning virtually all circumstances was - you know, the termination of pregnancy was banned - is that Ireland perhaps historically felt it had to compensate for its troubles, for the fact that it exported so many of its people, by holding itself up to the world as a source of exceptionally holy, Catholic place. And I think what we're seeing is that Ireland doesn't need to do that anymore, you know, that this was partly about abortion, but it was also partly about a society saying, we're willing to embrace our own reality. We're willing to embrace all of the women and men of Ireland, and we don't really need to feel that we're special anymore.

MARTIN: Although, at the same time, you also wrote that there needs to be a consideration made for the people who voted to keep the eighth amendment or to keep the abortion ban, that they should not be made to feel like - this is your word - freaks in their own country. What's the risk of that?

O'TOOLE: Yeah. Well, there is a risk, I think, you know, particularly because the vote was so overwhelming, as you said. It was two-thirds to one-third who voted to repeal the constitutional ban. So, of course, the people in that one-third are probably traditional people. Many of them would be people of faith. For a lot of them, this is a very, very dark moment. And I think it's important to say that Ireland shouldn't go down the road of the kind of culture wars that we've seen in the United States. You know, it's a small society. It's an intimate society. And actually, most Irish people probably agree about more things than they disagree about. And I just think it would be tragic if this was to become a kind of long-term battle between tradition and modernity. You know, there's no great strengths to be taken from that kind of battle for a society like Ireland.

MARTIN: Well, then, what do you think the opposition will be? I mean, do you think all those people will just surrender the fight now? I mean, here in the United States, this is a battle that has gone to the state level, the local level, to try to change the abortion laws. Do you expect that these people who voted to keep the amendment will stop fighting?

O'TOOLE: They won't. I mean, certainly a lot of them, you know, are very highly ideologically motivated, and they're very connected to, for example, the anti-abortion movements in the United States. So they will continue to make their point. However, one of the things that's really important here is that this was a popular vote, so they can't say this was the courts, this was an elite. This was the Irish people. And I think that gives this change an extraordinary mandate. You know, this really genuinely is what Irish people in the privacy of the polling stations when they went to mark their ballots, this is what they really felt. And you can't really deny that now.

MARTIN: Fintan O'Toole, the columnist for The Irish Times, thanks so much for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.

O'TOOLE: A real pleasure.