On 25th May, a referendum is being held in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution. This gives a foetus an equal right to life as the pregnant woman carrying it, meaning abortion is punishable in the same way as first degree murder. Both the woman terminating a pregnancy and any medical professional helping her can receive up to 14 years in prison. To read more about the appalling situation on the island of Ireland (in both the North and the Republic) Ella Nevill has written a fab piece on the issue. As an Irish citizen living in London, it confuses and angers me that Irish women are forced to endure archaic attitudes, long journeys to British abortion clinics, and carrying unwanted or sometimes dangerous pregnancies to term. If this outrages you as much as it does me, you might want to know what you can do. So, here is my guide on how to #repealthe8th.
Who is eligible to vote?
Irish citizens aged over 18 on the 25th May, who are ordinarily resident in the Republic of Ireland. Ordinarily resident means that you either live full-time in Ireland, or used to and have emigrated within the last 18 months. It is estimated the latter applies to 40,000 people – a number that could have a sizeable influence on the outcome. #hometovote was a movement started for the gay marriage referendum in 2016 that encouraged recent Irish emigrants to come home and vote. This is because Ireland is a nation of emigrants, and those who emigrate tend to be young so more likely to hold progressive views on issues like gay marriage and abortion. This idea and its momentum has been picked up by pro-choice activist groups and they too are encouraging recent emigrants to come home to vote. The last day to register to vote in the referendum is Tuesday 8th May so do not miss out! Check out hometovote.ie for more information about who is eligible to vote and exactly how to register.
Even if you are not eligible to vote, there are still things that can be done (whether you are Irish or not).
Talk, talk, talk
If between reading this and election day you are meeting up with relatives and friends who can vote, maybe mention the referendum and your views on it. It does not have to be a drawn out political debate. Perhaps just an anecdote. For example, I could tell my Irish relatives about how about a month ago I mentioned the referendum to some English friends and they refused to believe a country just across the Irish Sea from Britain still banned abortion in almost all circumstances. This is especially important if you know some friends or relatives may be anti-choice, undecided, or thinking about not voting. A short phone call, a text, a whatsapp, even posting on social media may make a difference.
Something else that could help to is to be personal about it. Certain sections of Irish society seem to be under the illusion that the current abortion ban has made Ireland abortion-free. 1 in 5 Irish women have had or will have an abortion – rather than going to a local hospital or clinic they procure it illegally (often with tablets bought online) or travel to Britain. This is only marginally less than Britain’s 1 in 4. Sharing personal experiences may help to break down the stigma around abortion in Ireland (obviously only do this if you are comfortable doing so). Even talking in plain statistics or even hypotheticals is invaluable – “no contraception works 100% of the time and even those who pledge abstinence often end up breaking it”, “the thought that I could one day become pregnant (despite taking precautions) and not be able to do anything about it terrifies me.” As has been the case in other recent elections and referenda, there is evidence to suggest fake news is permeating the debate around the repealing the eighth amendment – especially on the ‘no’ side. Dispelling myths about abortion is likely to be necessary so do not be afraid to point out lies when you hear or see them, both when discussing it face to face and on social media.
Even if you have no connection to Ireland at all (and your only participation in Irish culture is getting pissed on Paddy’s Day) the above is still helpful. A greater openness about abortion and promoting facts over falsities creates a more tolerant and less emotive backdrop for the Irish debate. Also, you may not be Irish but your friends and friends of friends may be so do not underestimate your own influence.
Both within the Irish Republic and across the globe, there are many Irish pro-choice organisations you can get involved with. Abortionrightscampaign.ie and repealeight.ie are websites for the national coalition of different groups working together to repeal the eighth with some great articles and lists of local groups. The large Irish diaspora means there are many groups outside of Ireland. Local to me is the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign who frequently hold protests, host events, and sell amazing ‘Healthcare not Airfare’ luggage tags (one of which proudly hangs on my suitcase). Most Irish-specific pro-choice groups are in countries and cities with large Irish populations (throughout the UK, in the EU, and in countries like the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Groups and movements with a wider focus like Amnesty International and the Women’s March are also campaigning to repeal the eighth. This means age, location, time, or funds are no barrier to doing something pro-active.
The march towards equality for Irish women has been slow who are currently denied a right British and American women have had since the 60s and 70s. But, there is something that we can do. If you are eligible to vote, please vote! Opinion polls may be suggesting a win for ‘yes’ but recent events have shown such polls are hardly reliable. Several commentators have even suggested the battle is far from won due to a rise in anti-establishment sentiment. Even if you can’t vote, you can still raise awareness – it may seem trivial but its importance cannot be overstated. Crucially, don’t take a backseat in what will hopefully prove to be a momentous day for gender equality in Ireland.
Written by Sophie Butcher