Irish sexual history and the abortion referendum
In May, the people of Ireland are voting on the future of the eighth amendment. This legal framework, regarding the restrictions on abortion, has been in place ever since 1983 and reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” (Houses of the Oireachtas 2017: 4). In short: abortion is only permitted to save a woman’s life. This regulation is very unusual in contemporary society. When compared to other European countries, Ireland has the strictest regulation of abortion (Center for Reproductive Rights 2018). Because of the growing discontent among the Irish citizens, the government has chosen to hold a referendum.
If the eighth amendment is repealed, a new legislation has to be set in place. Therefore, advisory committees have been created to make recommendations. In this paper, the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee (2017) will be reviewed. Furthermore, it will be explained from a sociological perspective why they mark a significant departure from traditional approaches to sexual regulation and control in Irish society. In this paper, the focus will only be on the most significant recommendations, since including all the recommendations made would make it too extensive.
The history of Irish sexuality has proven to be very different from other Western societies (Inglis 2005:1-2). For centuries, Irish sexuality has been marked by a Catholic culture of repressed sexual desire and pleasure, something that has been central to civilization and the creation of social order (ibid:3). Sexual activity was controlled through marriage and was meant for child-bearing only (ibid:4). Over the last fifty years, however, this culture has changed drastically (ibid:3). The departure of traditional approaches also shows in the recommendations made by the committee. For one, it has been recommended that
contraception should be provided free of charge to all who wish to avail of them (Houses of the Oireachtas 2017:14). This is a big step for Ireland since artificial contraception has been banned until 1979 (Inglis 2005:22). A study by Malesevic (2003) shows that the majority of the respondents (university students in Galway) agrees with the statements “Condom use does not have to interfere with sexual spontaneity.” and “The primary purpose of sex is pleasure.” and disagree with the statement “The purpose of sex should be the creation of new life.” (p.110). These results clearly mark a new way of thinking for the generations to come, which matches the statement that Ireland is moving towards a culture of self-indulgence in which the fulfilment of pleasure and desire is emphasized (Inglis 2005:3).
Another recommendation that marks a change in the Irish society, is the proposal to improve sexual health and relationship...