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On May 25, Ireland will hold a historic referendum, in which voters will decide whether or not to repeal the country’s 8th Amendment, which outlaws abortion in all cases, except when the mother’s life is deemed at-risk. The United Nations has called these restrictions “cruel and inhumane.” Since 1983, when that legislation was passed, Irish women wanting abortion services have had to travel to the United Kingdom or elsewhere for the procedure, or risk taking abortion pills ordered online, without medical supervision.
The law has gained widespread international attention, particularly after the tragic death of 31-year-old Savita Halappavanar, who was refused an abortion, despite being in the process of suffering a miscarriage, because doctors could detect a fetal heartbeat. Halappavanar died of complications from sepsis seven days later.
Here, Irish women share their emotional, sometimes-mixed thoughts on what repealing the 8th Amendment would mean for them and their country.
“I have a daughter. I was never married to her father, and had only known him for six weeks when I found out I was pregnant. Not so long ago I would have been sent to a laundry and she would have been torn straight out of my body and sold to someone else. We all know of women who were sent to these places, or people who were raised in them. Our country forced women, who may have really wanted to be mothers, to give up their children. The 8th amendment tries to force women to become mothers when they might not want to. Where is the sense?
“It makes me think a lot about women’s bodies and how society feels it has a right to control them. Women’s bodies are treated in such a trivial, horrific way.
“I will be voting Yes on Friday. There is not a doubt in my mind that the 8th Amendment needs to be repealed. But there are doubts in my mind about abortion. I know a lot of women who have been coerced and threatened into having them and have deeply regretted it later. For a long time I used this as my reason for being against abortion, but I realized that the problem in those situations was not that abortions were legal, but rather the lack of support offered to pregnant women who want to be mothers, but feel it would be impossible.
“A few years ago a friend of mine needed an abortion. I was living in London at the time. I loaned her the money to pay for it and she stayed with me for a few days. We were so young, and I didn’t really know what to do at the time. Looking back, I regret not being more supportive. We just didn’t really talk about it. Her appointment was early so I went with her before I went to work. I wish I had called in sick and stayed with her for the day.”
“The 8th Amendment makes me feel like I don’t belong in Ireland, which is hard because I love it here — it’s home, but I don’t want to raise my future daughters in a country that treats women so poorly. We brought it in in 1983, in a country where abortion was already illegal, and had never been legal. I’ve canvassed with women who campaigned in the ’80s and couldn’t even say ‘the A word’ at the doors.
“Women die in Ireland because of the 8th Amendment, constantly. There’s no shortage of stories of complications, backstreet procedures and bad reactions to unregulated abortion pills. It’s also a constant reminder that our constitution doesn’t respect women, their health or their agency. We’re not equal, and not trusted. We are incubators. It’s divisive for families and friends. Most people on both sides are looking forward to it being over. My dad is voting no, my mum is undecided. There have been some painful conversations and private tears in my family. Neither of us will change our beliefs and we’ll respect each other less at the end of it.”
“When I initially heard about the referendum, I thought it was a good idea to have the current laws changed. I assumed it was to allow for cases of nonviable pregnancies to be ended on Irish soil. However, when I heard the proposed legislation was to allow for abortion ‘on demand,’ up to 12 weeks, and up to viability on mental-health grounds, I was deeply upset and horrified that such a barbaric practice would potentially written into law.
“While I find the ‘hard cases’ absolutely heartbreaking and I do believe concessions need to be made for such, the alternative we have been presented with allows for perfectly healthy babies to be aborted on request. This, I think, is completely unacceptable, and the unnecessary loss of life far outweighs any good removing the 8th Amendment may do.
“When I found out I was pregnant with a very much unplanned and, at the time, very unwanted pregnancy, I believed it was the end of my life. I was single, recently redundant from my job and living in my parent’s house. And then I found out I was pregnant from a man I had dated casually for a few months. I immediately fell into a deep and all-encompassing depression which lasted months, complete with suicidal thoughts. If I had been able to walk down to my local hospital and make it all go away there is no doubt in my mind I would have. I can safely say, two years later, that the 8th Amendment saved me from making the worst mistake of my life. The 8th Amendment protected my daughter when I was not capable of doing so.”
“It’s a weird situation, because although it is a much-needed form of health care in Ireland, it feels strange to sort of celebrate the fact that there is a referendum to remove [the 8th amendment]. But I know women who have had to travel to the U.K., and it is for them that I want the law to change. Not having those services available in our country is really letting women down. Repealing it would mean that the nine women who travel to the U.K. for an abortion per day, and the three women a day who order abortion pills online, will be given the right health care, the correct after care, and some dignity along with it.”
“My main feeling is that we shouldn’t be having a referendum on this at all. It’s a basic human right that is in question, and we have to knock on doors and ask the Irish public whether it’s okay for us to have it. That feeds into feelings of frustration and anger at the sheer mistrust of women that reaches back as far as the beginning of the Catholic Church. It’s not a nice feeling to feel like you are a second-class citizen in a country that is seen by the rest of the world as one of the best places to visit and to live. The truth is that it is a very dangerous place to be a pregnant woman.
“My partner and I are currently trying to get pregnant but are questioning whether it is the right choice for us here. I know that if anything goes wrong, my life — the life of a living, breathing, loved 34-year-old woman — will take second place to that of my unborn child, and that is a scary thought.
“I have had three friends (that I know of) take the boat to England to have an abortion, and another who took an abortion pill, which made her incredibly ill. She had to be hospitalized. When she was in hospital being treated, she was judged harshly by her doctors (all of whom were female). It was appalling. I went with her to her subsequent appointments and insisted on being in the room as their treatment of her was so poor. We were afraid to report them as you can be jailed for up to 14 years for taking the abortion pill here.
“To know that I have a say in my health care while pregnant, to know that I have full bodily autonomy, to know that I am being afforded basic human rights in the first-world country I call home, to know that my fellow Irish men and women TRUST and PROTECT women here would mean the difference between feeling like a more equal member of Irish society and being kept at a lesser level of society just because I happen to have a womb. Repealing the 8th Amendment would mean everything to the women of Ireland, including those who oppose it. I do hope that when the dust settles, and the ‘abortion on demand’ that they worry about doesn’t materialize, they will see what a good thing it is for Irish women to have full control over their own bodies.”