TRCH Blood Brothers

Following the Abortion Vote in Ireland

6 June 18 words: Caroline Barry

Last week Ireland voted to repeal the 8th amendment, the piece of law in the constitution that means the life of an unborn foetus is equal to the life of the mother, which was entered into law back in 1983.

Until now, this has prevented access to safe abortion in Ireland. It means that to access abortion, nine women a day travel to the UK to access care, while three women per day take pills which risk health complications and jail time. It is estimated that over 20,000 Irish people flew home to help repeal the 8th. That was Irish people living in Vietnam, Canada, England, Tokyo and more who flew home to vote.

I flew from East Midlands, and endured the long journey back to the rural village where I live in order to cast my vote. To me, this was more than just a vote; this was a homecoming and a reversal of the time I travelled needing care and an abortion.

Landing in Dublin was emotional for me. I was just sixteen when I made the journey to the UK to access safe and legal abortion after my country said no. I was terrified. Now, I travel back with the reason for my journey blasted across my chest in bold letters - REPEAL. This is a much louder war cry than back then, when I slunk out of Cork quietly. I took flights and taxis silently trying to attract as little attention as possible.

There was no one there to greet me when I arrived at the airport this time. Those of us who are rural have a longer journey to make and had to take earlier flights, so I missed all the warm airport welcomes. I was so nervous standing there alone in my jumper that I covered it with my jacket. I have had friends beaten, spat at and called murderers during this campaign. In my fragile state, I didn’t know if I could stomach being called any of those words.

Then I met the YES campaigners.

Arriving in Cork and meeting those who were on stands was a life line. I ripped off my jacket in a frenzy, wanting to make my voice heard. I expected a fight, as all the YES campaigners were flanked by NO voters on either side. But none came. This was when I started to believe we could have this.

My god, we could win.

Upon arrival in Cork, I had a message from an old friend from art college thanking me for taking the time to journey home to vote. She had nearly lost her life to the 8th, and she would not have been the first. There was little the doctors could offer her while she lay almost dying from an infection. This was one reason among many to repeal the 8th.

The vote opened a lot of old wounds for people. When making the journey back to Nottingham I was cautiously optimistic, with the sound of the exit polls ringing in my ears. I don’t think I calmed down or even believed it until I heard the result announcer calling it for the YES side. I responded by crying and breaking open a bottle of prosecco. I also cried when my village returned a 60% yes to 40% no verdict. The village I didn’t think supported me then, had my back now. In fact, if the statistic that one in every twenty women has had an abortion is correct, then I was not alone.

But it isn’t over.

Now we face the fight to ensure that the wording on the new laws are right, making sure that abortion is not priced outside of the ability of everyone to afford it, that clinics are regulated and monitored to avoid bad practise, and that aftercare is available for anyone who needs it. As a rural woman based six hours away from Dublin, I will be watching to make sure that these clinics are placed across the country and not just in the capital.

So what next? Northern Ireland is still without gay marriage or abortion. Following the gay marriage referendum in the south in 2015, there was - and still is - a huge drive to make things legal in the north. I am happy to report that there is a drive for legalising abortion too. The North have a different set of laws governing abortion and will not require the same referendum. They need their government to legalise it, but we needed our voters to change the law.

But what goes up must come down. The confusion over who is to thank has begun. The erasure of the grassroots nature of this vote is already being debated. There are already those questioning and denying the hard work done by the transgender community for the repeal movement. What is worse is the placing of the thanks on the shoulders of trans exclusionary radical feminists who seek to exclude the trans community. We have also seen women being shouted down by men during debates about the vote on TV and radio.

The war may be over, but after effects of the battle are still being felt. It will be a long time before Ireland is ready to have clinics, access, regulations and laws. In the meantime, the only thing I need to do is say thank you.

Thank you to everyone who voted, canvassed, pushed, cried, screamed, fought, kicked, tweeted, posted, told their story, messaged, hand shook, poster hung, printed and did not go gently. It’s because of the effort of so many people that we have the verdict that we have. I am eternally grateful to you all. Not to mention for the first time in years, I feel forgiven.

Follow Caroline Barry on Twitter @mizzpennydreadf 

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