The removal of the Eighth Amendment from the constitution through a referendum earlier this year was one of the most monumental events politically and socially in Ireland's history.

Ailbhe Conneely of RTÉ’s political staff who followed the story since the Oireachtas committee started considering article 40.3.3 in 2017, outlines the key moments of 2018.

Oireachtas Committee report debated in the Dáil

Following its publication in December 2017, the Oireachtas Eighth Amendment Committee Report was discussed by TDs.

There was concern amongst some, that the prospect of removing the eighth amendment from the Constitution would lead to a liberalisation of abortion laws.

On reading the committee’s report, some TDs changed their views, including the leader of Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin, whose party was divided on the issue of abortion and whose members were given a free vote.

After "a long period of reflection", Mr Martin said abortion was not an issue where a unanimous opinion was possible.

Those campaigning to remove the Eighth Amendment viewed his contribution as significant, given the varying views in the party.

Mr Martin was shortly followed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who said he believed Ireland’s abortion laws were too restrictive and a referendum to change the Constitution was required.

Coveney's doubts

The second in command in Government, Tánaiste Simon Coveney grappled with the recommendation of termination for no reason up to 12-weeks.

Following work with senior clinicians and the Minister for Health, Mr Coveney was eventually assured of the safeguards and structures around the proposed law.

The protocol would be based on informed consent and there would be a pause period of between two to three days after a woman requests an abortion "to ensure a fully considered decision".

By March, he was on board.

The campaign begins

On a blustery day at the end of March, Minister for Housing Planning and local Government Eoghan Murphy announced 25 May as Referendum Day.

In a carefully orchestrated press conference outside Government Buildings, he was flanked by Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee and the Minister for Health Simon Harris, as well as one of the most vocal advocates in Cabinet for access to abortion services, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone.

Yes and No

The campaign was led by umbrella organisations on both sides.

Together for Yes sought for the Eighth Amendment to be repealed.

On the No side, Love Both and Save the Eighth were the leading organisations that challenged the heads of the bill which were published prior to the referendum.

There were dividing views in professions on whom the legislation would have an impact.

People like the head of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dr Rhona Mahony and Professor Eamon McGuinness, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, prominently argued for and against the removal of the Eighth.

GPs, Nurses, Midwives, Lawyers, Pharmacists too were divided.

Online abortion pills

A reality that voters had to face in the 2018 referendum, compared to the last referendum on the matter in 1983, was the procurement of abortion pills online.

Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Abigail Aiken, on whose research the Oireachtas Eighth Amendment Committee report was based, arrived in Ireland in May to outline the extent of the problem.

Her research showed that five Irish women requested abortion pills online every day and the number of women ordering them had risen dramatically between 2010 and 2016.

Online advertising

Another impact the internet had over the referendum was over online advertising.

On 8 May, Facebook announced it would no longer accept foreign advertisements in relation to the referendum.

The following day, Google went one step further, banning all ads.

Those campaigning to keep the Eighth Amendment were outraged by the unfairness of the decision.

They could accept Facebook banning foreign ads, but found Google’s decision unfathomable.

They also noted that the Yes side appeared to be satisfied with the move.

Personal stories

The personal stories of women and their willingness to talk about their experiences was viewed as hugely impactful on voters.

While brave women from both sides of the debate went on the national airwaves and spoke to print media; it was the stories of women travelling for abortions, those who took abortion pills and representatives of terminations for medical reasons who outlined their difficulties that appeared to strike a chord with the public.

Read: Eighth Amendment - Women's Stories

Referendum day

On 26 May, 35 years after it was placed in the Constitution, two thirds of the electorate voted in favour of repeal and for provision to be made for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.

The result made international headlines around the world.

For those who had campaigned for a No vote, it was a difficult day.

TDs and Senators against abortion quickly realised that the huge mandate meant they would soon be legislating for abortion services.

When the dust settled, the Minister for Health published the heads of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill) in June.

Simon Harris insisted that abortion services would be up and running on 1 January 2019 and free.

And so, the summer came and went.

Legislation debated in Dáil

The Minister for Health introduced the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill in the Dáil in early October.

There were many amendments tabled at Committee and Report stage in both houses of the Oireachtas.

TDs and Senators in favour of abortion services sought to get rid of the three-day wait period, others wanted trans-people to be fully included in the legislation and there were calls to enable women in Northern Ireland to access the service.

Those against abortion tabled amendments requesting that there would be dignified burial of foetal remains, that an increased amount of data be collected about women seeking terminations and they called for abortion services not to be paid for by taxpayers.

Key changes

In October, Minister Harris said "each and every" amendment in the legislation would be considered at Committee stage, but he said there was a "huge responsibility" on him to introduce a bill along the lines that people voted on.

In reality, Mr Harris accepted very few amendments.

What did change was that the legislation would be reviewed after three years – as opposed to five.

If in a medical termination a woman seeks a termination from one doctor, she can return to a second doctor after the 72-hour wait period, if the first is unavailable.

And the offences section which allows criminal sanctions for anyone found guilty of providing abortions outside of the Act, would move from the front of the Bill to part three.

Conscientious objection

In November, as legislation was still going through the Dáil, the issue of conscientious objection was raised by those carrying out the service like GPs, nurses, midwives and pharmacists.

The Minister for Health said that in the proposed legislation, a medical practitioner with a conscientious objection would not be obliged to carry out or participate in a termination.

However, they would have to a duty to ensure that another colleague takes over the care of the patient.

Mr Harris said this was in line with the Medical Council's Code of Ethics, which obliges doctors to transfer patients to another doctor for treatment if they have a conscientious objection.

A similar code applies under the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland guidelines.

Legislation becomes law

On 13 December 2018, the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill passed all stages in the Oireachtas.

A week later, President of Ireland Michael D Higgins signed it into law.

Introduction of services

The day after the legislation passed in the Oireachtas, those involved in setting up abortion services sought to dampen expectations regarding 1 January.

The clinical advisor to the HSE on the introduction of abortion services Dr Peter Boylan said teething problems would be inevitable.

A 24-hour helpline run by nurses and counsellors will be heavily relied upon and it will give women their options.