Next month on May 25th, the Republic of Ireland will vote in a referendum which, whatever the outcome, will affect the lives of their women forever. The referendum has been called to decide if the country wants to change the part of the constitution, known as the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits abortion, even in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.
This section of the constitution, actually called article 40.3.3, gives the unborn foetus (from day one) equal right to life as that of its mother, essentially recognising it as a person, whose life must be protected by law. Therefore abortion, under this line of thought, is likened to murder, with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison.
For years Irish women have been traveling to the UK – 11 each day on average – as well as buying illegal, often dangerous abortion pills online, putting their own health, as well as their finances and safety in jeopardy. If the country votes ‘Yes’ to repeal the Eighth next month, the Irish Government will create legislation that would allow abortions in Ireland, upto 12 weeks only, a much shorter period than the 24 week window in the UK. But still, progress.
Last week on a trip back home to Ireland the fear this vote will be a close one is hung heavy in the air, my country is still so divided on the issue. Which is exactly how it felt three years ago, when we voted to legalise gay marriage. Not until the last vote was counted did anyone really know which way it would go... the ‘Yes’ vote won by 62% in the end. The understanding that every single vote counts has, just like in the marriage equality referendum, activated the Irish electorate living abroad, and they’re making sure their precious votes are being used. And so came to be, the #hometovote movement.
Irish men and women abroad, who have left Ireland within the last 18 months are still entitled to vote, and by God don’t they know it. Booking flights in their droves, my Instagram and Twitter feeds have lit up with booking confirmations being shared by ex-pats and gap yearers, all desperate to have their vote counted.
'I went home to vote in the Marriage Equality referendum too and I voted "yes" – again.' Rachel, 24 originally from Dublin told me. 'This was a question of choice which people should be allowed to have. I also felt I had no right to tell a person who they can and cannot love. I am a woman and although I do not intend on using abortion services, it is a choice I want to freely have as it may be the best chance I have for both personal and survival reasons.'
I spoke to Sarah, 27, who lives in Dublin but will be moving to Berlin for six months on May 6th. She had already signed her new lease when the date was announced, so will have been living in Germany less than three weeks when she and her boyfriend come home to vote. 'I've seen friends on Instagram posting flight details from all around the world. It's been really empowering to see so many people coming home to vote. It's time Ireland stopped failing the victims of rape, the parents facing fatal foetal abnormalities, or the many other situations that we may face. I'm travelling home to vote, but my journey is nothing like the journey that women are forced to make to the UK every day. Abortion may not be the option for everyone, but we need to allow everyone the choice.'
'It means that if the Eighth is repealed, women won't have to travel abroad or risk their lives with unregulated online abortion pills,' 26-year old Kat, originally from Wicklow shared. 'Abortion is happening in Ireland, just not in a safe, legal way. If the Eighth is repealed, this will change. It will also mean that pregnancies that have FFA can be ended in a dignified way and allow families to grieve properly, not in a hotel room in the UK or on a flight. Pro-choice is not pro-abortion. It does not mean that every pregnant woman from here out will abort, but if it is a traumatic experience or one borne from a traumatic event there should be options. Living in the UK I am now afforded these options and I am making the trip home so that in the future, other women won't have to.'
The young men from and in Ireland can be decidedly woke too, when it matters. 'I'm very lucky to know a lot of amazing, strong, inspirational women back home and not one of them have autonomy over their own bodies and I think that's nothing short of draconian.' Eoin, 31, living in the UK told me. 'In cases of rape and incest, no woman should have to carry a constant reminder of that experience with them. To my mind that's punishing the victim for the most horrific moment of their lives. Forcing women to carry a child to term if they're not in the right position to do so is effectively deeming them to be nothing more than vessels for babies rather than people. It especially penalises lower income families who might not be able to afford everything related to the pregnancy, let alone raising a child. In a year that opened with Time's Up and the #MeToo movement, a repeal of the eighth amendment would be a good news story we so sorely need.'
And those, gone so long they’re no longer eligible to vote? Not happy just to sit back and see what happens, those guys want to contribute too. “ The rules stipulate that only those who have left less than 18 months ago, and who plan to return within that time, should vote. I have instead donated my airfare to travel that weekend to the Together for Yes campaign, so that they can try and get as many people out to vote ‘Yes’ as possible.” said Paula, 27, originally from Ennis and now living in the UK. 'I feel that this referendum has a greater impact on me personally than any other vote I’ve cast before, except perhaps Brexit. If I should ever be pregnant in Ireland, and something were to go wrong, the thought of not being able to make my own decisions about my healthcare and the future of my pregnancy is absolutely terrifying. I believe that all pregnant people should have the final say over their healthcare. They should have the right to access information, be given all the options and make the decision that’s right for them. They should be supported in this by their regular health providers, in their own hospitals and clinics.'
I am no longer eligible to vote in Ireland, so will be watching from afar, probably sheepishly from behind a cushion, on my sofa in London. But from the bottom of my heart, I’d like to thank the Irish abroad who are flying and ferrying #hometovote. You’re a credit to our wonderful little country.