The people of overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland have officially broken with Vatican doctrine on abortion.

Two-thirds of voters in a referendum Friday favored repealing the nation’s Eighth Amendment, which prohibits abortion except in cases where a woman’s life is at risk.

At a time when abortion rights are steadily being whittled away across the United States, voters in Catholic-dominated countries such as Ireland, Chile and Argentina are moving in the opposite direction. For those who oppose abortion rights on religious grounds, perhaps no amount of referendums or editorials will convince them that relaxing abortion restrictions is a good thing. We admit to being troubled by the practice, especially with late-term abortions.

But on the right of women to decide, we are unwavering. It is a choice neither for the state nor the church to make on a woman’s behalf. Her body is her own, and her choice whether to continue with a pregnancy or end it is not for others to decide.

Voters in Ireland overwhelmingly agree. The nation’s existing law prohibits abortions even if a woman is raped or the victim of incest, or if there is a fatal fetal abnormality. Violation of the law can result in prison terms of up to 14 years.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar declared Friday as “a day when we say no more. No more to doctors telling their patients there’s nothing can be done for them in their own country, no more lonely journeys across the Irish Sea, no more stigma as the veil of secrecy is lifted and no more isolation as the burden of shame is gone.”

The Eighth Amendment resulted from a visit to Ireland in 1983 by Pope John Paul II. Whereas the U.S. Constitution specifically mandates separation of church and state, Ireland has until recently made no pretense about conforming its laws to Catholic doctrine.

But in 2015, 62 percent of voters approved a historic referendum legalizing same-sex marriage, marking a major split with the church. Ireland broke away from Britain in 1916 in large part because the Irish refused to accept the Protestant faith mandated by the English crown. They didn’t want someone else’s belief system imposed on them. Yet, for decades, they sustained a legal doctrine that effectively mandated adherence to the pope’s position regarding abortion and same-sex marriage.

For those who believe in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Irish vote help adds clarity about what’s behind the steady erosion of abortion rights. Freedom of religion erodes whenever the state receives the power to impose one person’s belief system upon others. The Irish vote clarifies where the line must be drawn in telling women what they may or may not do with their own bodies.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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