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Abortion In Ireland: Repeal The 8th Amendment

Abortion is illegal in Ireland - but now, thanks to an increasing army of protestors fighting to repeal the 8th amendment (the law that makes it criminal) the Irish government is considering a referendum.

Róisín Ingle, senior editor of The Irish Times, who herself travelled to England to have an abortion, reports on this critical moment.

Every Saturday, for fifteen years, readers of The Irish Times were subjected to my particular brand of professional oversharing in a weekly lifestyle column. From cringe-making relationship blunders to mortifying tights-related malfunctions, I left no personal milestone unshared. And yet there was one revelation I stopped myself from divulging time and time again: when I was in my late twenties, I had an abortion.

Catholic School: "Abortion Is A Sin"

At school in early 1980s Catholic Ireland, when I was around 10, we were taught by the parish priest that abortion was a sin.

As teenagers, TVs were wheeled into classrooms so we could watch terminations on the telly. These tactics ensured even the mouthiest of us kept quiet about what we had learned were shameful, sinful matters as opposed to reproductive realities for so many women around the world.

The 8th Amendment

After a public vote in 1983, the controversial 8th amendment was written into the Irish constitution, equating the right to life of the unborn with the mother's right to life. Abortion is therefore illegal in Ireland except where there is an immediate threat to a woman's life and it carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

I may have been a professional oversharer, but my abortion was one secret I planned to keep to myself.

Until one day I couldn't.

It involves a lot of lying, significant expense, a trip to another country and at least one night spent bleeding onto sheets that are not your own

This week marks exactly one year since I wrote my abortion story in The Irish Times. In the wake of the historic Irish yes vote for same-sex marriage, I viewed it as my own 'coming out', a protest against the prohibition of a medical procedure approximately 12 women leave Ireland each day to access.

Over the decades, we've seen horrific examples of the ways women and girls are failed by the 8th amendment - from teenagers pregnant by rape to women with fatal foetal abnormalities forced to travel, to the brain dead mother kept alive against her family's wishes while a court pondered the foetus in her womb.

Savita Halappanavar

Four years ago, the shocking death in an Irish hospital of Savita Halappanavar, a young Indian woman who sought and was refused an abortion after she began to miscarry, made news all over the world.

Amazing Irish women have been campaigning on this issue for more than three decades, but the Savita tragedy galvanised a new generation. Keeping quiet was no longer an option.

I got pregnant after a one-night stand, at a time when I was not financially, emotionally or psychologically ready to be a parent. For me, the decision to choose abortion was straightforward. I did not want a baby. I wanted the pregnancy to be over. But when there are no abortion providers in your country, securing one is more complex. It involves a lot of lying, significant expense, a trip to another country - usually England - and at least one night spent bleeding, far from home, onto sheets that are not your own.

#TwoWomenTravel

In all the pro-choice activism of the past year - including women such as author and comedian Tara Flynn bravely sharing abortions stories - it was that photo of bloodstained hotel sheets on the #TwoWomenTravel Twitter timeline that got to me the most.

Last month, a woman and her friend who needed an abortion, did something ground-breaking. They documented, via Twitter, that journey to England.

They provided a running commentary of their experience as they boarded planes and trains and sat in an abortion clinic waiting room, a room occupied by other Irish women who had made the same journey that weekend. All the while they directed tweets at the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny, keeping him updated on their progress.

The journey of #TwoWomenTravel showed us the reality for women and girls in Ireland who experience crisis pregnancies. The response was powerful and mostly positive.

In addition to the inevitable hectoring from anti-abortion groups, within hours they had garnered thousands of followers while public figures from actor and presenter James Corden to author Marian Keyes lent their support.

When recently I asked the two women why they did it, they told me they wanted to highlight the impact of the 8th amendment to help make this 'lonely and degrading pilgrimage a thing of the past'.

They described how women are forced into journeys 'often while weary, often while sad, often while sore. No matter the circumstances, always away from home.' And that is if you can afford it. For women and girls in poverty, and for those who do not have the right travel documents, leaving Ireland for an abortion is not an option.

A Referendum?

While the Taoiseach never responded, in an unprecedented development the Minister for Health Simon Harris tweeted his thanks to the two women. A 'citizen's assembly', which was already in process, is being set up next month to debate the issue. However, this talking shop is viewed by many as a tactic to delay a referendum which would allow people a chance to repeal the 8th amendment.

A few days after the two women travelled, the issue of repeal made headlines again, this time at The Rose of Tralee pageant, an event famously parodied in Father Ted as a 'Lovely Girls' contest.

This twee gathering of women from all over the world who are Irish or who have Irish roots is the last place you would expect to find mention of abortion. But at the 'Sydney Rose', journalist Brianna Parkins, surprised everyone when she said on live Irish TV that her 'dream' was a referendum on the 8th amendment.

The X-ile Project & #Repealthe8th

Motivated by #TwoWomenTravel, Parkins' support of the campaign was an unexpected coda in a year that breathed new and noisy life into the #repealthe8th: The X-ile Project was set up by a group of young Irish women who take beautiful photographs of ordinary Irish women exiled from Ireland to have abortions. Last week, they took their 40th photo for their website x-ileproject.com.

Another Irish woman Anna Cosgrave set up repeal.ie, producing stylish REPEAL sweatshirts that have become one of the most potent fashion statements around - 'outerwear to give a voice to a hidden problem'.

In Northern Ireland last May, three women: Diana King, Collette Devlin and Kitty O'Kane handed themselves in to a Derry police station stating they had procured and taken illegal abortion pills, requesting they be prosecuted, in protest at Northern Ireland's restrictive abortion laws.

Later this month, on September 24th, thousands of us will go on the annual March For Choice through the streets of Dublin. We will protest and we will wait. For a referendum. For the draconian and dangerous Irish abortion laws to be changed.

How likely is that and how soon? It's hard to tell. But as well as being an oversharer, I am an optimist. Too many have broken the silence. Too many are out of the closet. Too many, both women and men, are demanding full reproductive rights in Ireland. We can no longer be ignored.

More from Grazia:

The Country Where Women Are Too Afraid To Speak About Abortion

'It Felt Like A Medieval Walk of Shame:' Abortion Stigma 90 Years On

'Girls' star, Jemima Kirke, Talks About Her Abortion