On May 25, Irish people voted in a referendum to repeal or save the Eighth Amendment, which says an unborn child has the same right to life as a pregnant woman. Ireland currently has a near-complete ban on abortion, except when a woman’s life is at risk, but that could be about to change if the most recent figures are indicative of the final result.
According to exit polls by The Irish Times and RTÉ, around 69% of people voted to repeal the part of the constitution that effectively prohibits terminations, leading one of the main anti-abortion campaigns to admit defeat.
John McGuirk, from Save the 8th, said in a statement: “The unborn child no longer has a right to life recognised by the Irish state.”
He has also suggested that protests will take place upon the opening of abortion clinics in Ireland, explaining, “Every time an unborn child has his or her life ended in Ireland, we will oppose that, and make our voices known.”
Repeal the 8th campaigners meanwhile, are celebrating a historic day.
The official count began this morning and a result is expected by this evening. If the vote does officially fall in favour of repealing the amendment, parliament will debate the topic and decide on the laws that will be passed.
Figures from the UK Department of Health indicate around nine women leave Ireland every day for a termination in the UK. Thousands of women flew home to Ireland from across the globe to vote – and they’ve been posting their selfies on Instagram with kickass captions and the hashtag #hometovote.
We also asked one woman, Clare*, now thirty, who flew alone from Dublin to Manchester for an abortion at the age of twenty two, to share her story with GLAMOUR. She spoke to Alyson Henry about her experience.
“Now that we’re so close to the referendum, it is hard to hear those against abortion say things like: ‘women who have unplanned pregnancies are careless and reckless’. Sometimes you do everything you can and it still happens. I took a pregnancy test after I began to feel nauseous all the time. All of a sudden I couldn’t eat anything and my sense of smell was heightened. When the results were positive it was like a punch in the stomach. I did three pregnancy tests in total. I couldn’t believe this had happened to me. The person I’d gotten pregnant with wasn’t someone I’d want to raise a child with. I adore kids but I knew, without any doubt, it wasn’t the right time in my life to start a family.
When I got pregnant at 22, Ireland was in a deep recession. Unemployment levels were extremely high but I had just managed to get an entry-level job. I wasn’t in a relationship at the time and had very little money. I’m a really cautious person and I was extremely careful with contraception.
I immediately went into solution mode and began to research abortion clinics in the UK online. I didn’t want to go to my doctor for advice about what to do as he has been my family GP for three generations. He is kind but old school and I knew I couldn’t go to him with a problem like that. I found the Marie Stopes clinic online and saw they had a clinic in Manchester. I figured I wouldn’t bump into anyone I knew there. It was also only a short distance from the airport by taxi so I figured when I was returning home, possibly in pain, at least my taxi ride would be short.
The only person I told was my mum as I didn’t have the money to book the abortion and flights by myself. My mum and I have a funny relationship. She had me when she was young and over the years she has struggled with alcohol addiction. She never really wanted children, which is something I grew up knowing. I never wanted that to be my reality. Between the two of us, we scraped the money together. The abortion cost around £500 and the flights were another few hundred. I booked my flight for early Saturday morning. I didn’t know how long the procedure would take, so I booked my return flight for late that night.
When I arrived at the abortion clinic in Manchester, there were loads of protesters outside. People shouted at me as I walked in but I was in such a daze, I don’t remember what they said. I locked eyes with one old man as I approached the clinic and I thought to myself, ‘if this was any other time, I’d be able to give you a piece of my mind.’ But in that moment, I couldn’t. I just rushed in the door. Once inside the clinic, the staff were lovely. I sensed they were particularly kind to me as they knew I had come alone from Ireland. They were extremely considerate and thorough. They asked me a lot of questions to ensure I had thought things through.
The worst bit of the whole experience, by far, was having to travel back to Ireland feeling so weak. I lost a lot of blood during the procedure. I fainted a couple of times and a doctor told me I’d have to stay overnight. I panicked and explained I had to leave to catch my flight back to Ireland. For all the benefits of picking a city where I knew no one, the feeling of being completely alone in that situation was terrifying. They kept me at the clinic for as long as possible but eventually I had to leave.
In the airport, I tried to drink a smoothie to give me an energy boost. I went to the bathroom and was shocked by how much I was bleeding. It might sound dramatic but I really thought I was going to die alone in a toilet cubical at an airport, miles from anyone I knew. I was wearing a woollen grey dress and leggings. I changed into the clean underwear and leggings I had brought with me but I had to wear the dress home with spots of blood on it. Every woman knows the fear that you’ve bled on your clothes but in that moment, it was the least of my worries. I’m normally very well put together but all I could do was put one foot in front of the other. When the plane landed at Dublin Airport, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I remember thinking, ‘well if I collapse on the tarmac at the airport, at least someone will be able to work out who I am.’
Most people still don’t know I’ve had an abortion. Once the referendum campaigning started and I saw anti-abortion posters pop up across Dublin city, sometimes I felt like screaming about my experience. Another part of me though, wants to tell people why they should vote ‘yes’ without telling them my personal story. Because, ultimately, you shouldn’t have to have experienced that ordeal yourself to believe in a woman’s right to choose. It’s a difficult conversation to have and I feel as though talking about abortion in a neutral way gives you more power. If I tell people about my abortion, they’ll put me in a box. Also, my story is the epitome of choice. It was my body. My choice. Some people, even people on the pro-choice side, have discomfort with that narrative. It is easier to use medical reasons or very serious cases as examples for why abortion should be introduced in Ireland.
Some of the posters the anti-abortion side use in their campaign contain incorrect information or graphic images of foetuses. This makes me angry as while they don’t affect how I feel about my own choices, I don’t know what impact they might have had on me in the initial days after my abortion. I appreciate every person’s experience is different but I’ve never regretted my decision. I never pick up a beautiful baby and question my own choice. After my abortion, I threw myself into making my life great. I work hard. I’m professionally successful. I volunteer. I spend a lot of time with my friends and family. Things are pinch-myself-good. I can’t wait to start a family one day with my husband in the life I’ve worked hard to create.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE REPEAL THE EIGHTH CAMPAIGN
It’s the story hogging headlines across Ireland – and the conversation surrounding the referendum to legalise abortion in Ireland is only going to continue gaining momentum.
The Repeal The Eighth campaign dictates that the abortion ban in Ireland discriminates against women because it denies them access to basic healthcare.
Whether you have a vested interest or have no idea what the topic is, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about the Republic of Ireland’s decision to hold a referendum over access to abortion in Ireland.
– On May 25th, Ireland will hold a referendum and make a decision over whether it will alter its constitution to legalise abortion.
– Abortion is currently illegal (unless there is substantial health risks to mother and child), with a woman who has an abortion facing 14 years in jail. Women do, however, travel abroad for terminations.
– The momentous day marks the first opportunity in 35 years to overhaul one of the world’s strictest regimes (Malta is the only European country with similarly strict rules).
– Together for Yes is the National Civil Society Campaign to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution allow access to abortion up to a 12 week limit.
– Explaining their plight in greater detail, the group say: “We believe that people in Ireland have the compassion to understand that the Constitution is not the place to decide the complexities of crisis pregnancies because it is too blunt. This referendum is a critical opportunity for all of us to create a compassionate, supportive environment for anyone who need abortions in Ireland. Sometimes a private matter needs public support. For years, thousands of people in towns and villages across the country have been calling for the 8th Amendment to be removed, to end the pain and distress of women shut out by their own country.”
– The message seems to be gaining major traction, with tens of thousands of people following the account.
– A side project called Everyday Stories is also pushing the campaign by asking people to anonymously share their own candid tales of how the abortion ban has changed their lives.