Today in the Republic of Ireland, voters are going to the polls to decide whether or not to repeal the 8th Amendment, which states that a foetus has an equal right to life as the mother.
Currently, it is illegal for a woman in Ireland to receive an abortion, and women can face up to 14 years in prison for attempting to terminate a pregnancy.
Within this still strongly Catholic country, the decision to change the law and as a result, actively work against the teachings of the Catholic Church, will come down to a referendum.
The Republic of Ireland was the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote in 2015, with 62% voting in favour of gay marriage. Repeal campaigners are hoping for a similar outcome on Friday, and, if successful, women in Ireland will be able to legally obtain abortion up to 12 weeks into their pregnancies.
Abortion in Ireland has been illegal since 1861. In rare cases, an abortion has been legally granted due to the mother’s life being at risk.
These ‘legal abortions’ are very rare though, with only 25 legal abortions granted in 2016. Just as with any women found trying to obtain an abortion in Ireland faces jail time, any doctor found helping facilitate an abortion can also face up to 14 years in prison.
However, this does not mean that Irish women aren’t seeking abortions. An estimated 9 women a day travel to England or Wales to obtain an abortion, and a further 1,300 abortion pill packages were ordered in Ireland in 2016.
Ultimately, the referendum on Friday isn’t asking the Irish people whether they agree with abortions or not, but whether they agree with the way Irish women seeking an abortion are treated. For many Irish women who travel across the Irish Sea to obtain an abortion, it’s not only a physical operation but a psychological one.
In cases of rape and sexual abuse, an Irish woman is currently still expected to continue her pregnancy and give birth to her rapist’s child. This not only results in psychological trauma for the mother, but also means she will forever be linked to her rapist. For women who are not in the financial position to be able to take care of a baby, they are often forced to spend money they do not have on plane tickets and accommodation in England or Wales.
The loneliness, guilt and shame that accompanies the price of a plane ticket to England can have lasting psychological effects on Irish women seeking an abortion. Many feel unable to tell their friends and family that they are getting an abortion due to the stigma that’s still attached to the subject, making women feel even more isolated during an already incredibly difficult situation. Since 1980 ,170,216 women and girls have travelled from Ireland to another country to obtain an abortion. http://gty.im/962328084
What is happening today?
Polling stations are open across the Republic of Ireland on Friday 25th May from 7am and will close at 10pm. As long as you are inside the polling building by 10pm you will be allowed to vote.
The polling card will ask:
Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill?
There will be only 2 voting options – yes or no.
Whatever the outcome on Friday, this referendum has opened up a conversation across Ireland that has been brewing for a longtime.
In a country where the last Magdalene Laundry – institutions of confinement for ‘fallen women’, usually run by the Roman Catholic church – was only closed in 1997, women are still having to fight to take control not only of their own bodies but also of the public rhetoric surrounding this issue.