The Eighth Amendment has been a topic of discussion since its introduction into the Irish Constitution in 1983. 66.9% percent of the Irish population voted that the life of a foetus had the right to life, and so had the same rights as the woman carrying it. With an overwhelming vote in 1983 to pass the legislation, then why the change now? Well, a lot of things have changed culturally in Ireland since 1983. Divorce has been legalized since 1995, the last of the Magdalene Laundries closed in 1996 and same-sex marriage was legitimized in 2015. Ireland is recognising the individual rights of all their citizens, and now Ireland is again at the forefront of cultural change as a result of this monumental referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment and legalise abortion.
I have only recently moved to London after being lucky enough to travel across South East Asia for two months. It was a chance to make a new life for myself in a new city with multiple opportunities. But I am reminded that with my decision to move to London, many women living in Ireland have no choice but to travel to England, not with a new life in mind but with a burdensome decision and a heart-breaking story behind it. They have made a choice that is prohibited in Ireland, a choice that allows them to have authority over their body. It is imperative for Irish women to know that they have freedom in every aspect of their life and more importantly, control over their body when they become pregnant. Without this choice, women are prisoners in their own body and if choosing to terminate the pregnancy, imprisoned by their own country.
When I step onto the aircraft at Stanstead on May 24th, I will be thinking about the women who have in the past boarded a similar flight or departed by sea. Women who left their children at home, took a sick day off work or who have family and friends unbeknownst of her travel; women who came to England alone, who were underage or who under a multitude of circumstances, made the tough decision not to carry out the duration of the pregnancy. Irish women are left without after-care and counselling when they return home, which can be crucial to not only their physical health but their mental health as well. These women are left abandoned by the state. Financial circumstances have also played against some women in Ireland, leaving them to purchase abortion pills online. With no medical guidance women are putting themselves in severe danger with little hope that they could ask for help for fear of chastisement.
Women’s health is being put at risk with the Eighth Amendment in the Irish constitution. In order for women to have their full rights in Ireland, they need to be able to have control over what happens to their body. By travelling home to vote Yes, I am progressing women’s rights by protecting the future of Irish women’s rights over their bodies. If I leave my vote will go unmarked, or make a decision not to go home to vote, I will be closing off Irish women’s decisions on how they deal with a pregnancy. That human right is something I have to travel home to change.
Like with everything, I believe it is essential to be informed on both sides of any campaign. Having spent some time listening to the ‘No’ campaign and listening to the stories of the ‘Yes’ side, it reiterated what I had always believed: that the private rights of women should be kept private. It should not be determined by a religious organisation or by a government. Real freedom lies in bodily autonomy. Gore Vidal talked about the importance of civil liberties and the democracy of the self: “Whether you have an abortion, what you put in your own body, with whom you have sex – these are not the affairs of the state. A government does not exist to control the citizens.” Ireland, Malta and Poland are the only countries in the EU where there are restrictive laws or a complete ban, in the case of Malta, of abortion. For a progressive country, it is now time for Ireland to acknowledge the full bodily autonomy of the Irish woman.
So why am I travelling home? I’m travelling home for all the women who had the tragedy of a foetal abnormality and weren’t able to bury their children in peace. I’m travelling home for the nine women a day who travel to England alone or with someone. I’m travelling for the fathers who didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. I’m travelling home for my niece who I hope will grow up in an Ireland where women are equal in society and in law. I’m travelling home to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
Written by Niamh Cavanagh