Ahead of Ireland’s Abortion Referendum, We Meet the Repeal Voters

Photography by Ruth Guest 

This Friday, Ireland will vote to remove a single sentence from its 8th amendment, one that’s divided the country for decades; that the life of the unborn is equal with the life of the mother. The law, which came into place in 1983, prohibits abortion in almost all cases, resulting in more than 170,000 Irish women to risk their lives travelling abroad to seek help, or risk prosecution by smuggling abortion pills. It’s time for change, and the time is now. Ahead of the referendum, we caught up with voters in Ireland to discover what the law change would mean to them.

Nicole Owens, Strategic Marketer, 25, @speedingcars
From and currently living in Dublin

What would the repeal of the 8th amendment mean to women in Ireland?

It would mean that Ireland has taken another step towards recognising the role of Irish women to be more than just mothers, housekeepers and reproducers. It would mean that women in Ireland will no longer be forced abroad for abortion and can receive adequate treatment and support and comfort of their own home country.

What do you say to those who want to vote ‘No’? 

No one is pro-abortion. No one wants to be in the position to need an abortion. Voting Yes does not mean that you are pro-abortion, it means that you recognise that there are a multitude of situations and contexts that affect each woman’s experience of pregnancy. You should trust that each woman will make the right choice for herself and her situation. Voting No is saying that you do not trust women to make that choice. 


What other hopes do you have for the future of women in Ireland? 

I hope that as Ireland becomes more and more modern and the old patriarchal thoughts and institutions die out, that Irish women will finally be equally viewed and equally valued in the eyes of the state.

Amber Baruch, photographer, 27, @amberbaruch
From and currently living in Dublin

Tell us why you’re voting to repeal the 8th amendment? 

I’m voting to repeal the 8th amendment as women deserve bodily autonomy. We deserve healthcare that protects and supports whether that’s through trauma, cancer, mental illness or a fatal foetal abnormality. It is a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body.  I was born three months premature with a cleft lip and palate, a facial defect that occurs 4 – 12 weeks during pregnancy and it’s because of this that I feel it is important to share my stance on repealing the 8th.      

What would you say to those who want to vote ‘No’? 

I would ask them to put themselves in the shoes of all the women who, to date, have risked their lives travelling to another country to seek healthcare that isn’t provided to them on their own soil. The women who have endangered a 14-year-prison sentence for ordering illegal pills online, the teenagers and children who have come through the trauma of rape and are treated like vessels and force-fed in order to give birth. You don’t have to agree with abortion necessarily, but you can recognise a woman’s right to make her own choices in regards to her body. Abortions are happening and will continue to happen even if the 8th amendment isn’t repealed and by repealing it we are ensuring the safety and protection of every mother, sister, aunt and daughter in this country.

What would the repeal of the 8th amendment mean to women in Ireland?

It would ensure the protection and safety of women during pregnancy, allowing women to progress in pregnancy without fear for their life and allowing them to make their own informed decisions regarding their bodies.

Lu Saborío, 21, Student at NCAD and analogue photographer, @honeyclone
From Honduras, living in Ireland for past 5 years but my Irish family live in Meath, currently living in Dublin 

What do you say to those who want to vote ‘No’?

Remember that this referendum is not about whether you believe abortion is right or wrong, but rather about giving a choice to women and people. It gives them control over their own bodies. With the 8th amendment in place, we are blocking safe, compassionate healthcare in our country. We are making it unsafe for anyone with a womb to simply exist. Think of those unlike you before you vote ‘No’.

When you vote ‘No’, you’ll be neglecting every woman in this country, every trans person with a womb, every intersex person. You will be voting against all of us being able to find what is best for us privately with our doctors. Vote yes so that doctors can give the best and safest care for women. Vote yes for those who aren’t able to vote because of age, being asylum seekers, those in direct provision. Consider all of us, from working class to middle class, travellers and migrants. When you vote no you are allowing unsafe healthcare to continue in Ireland.

What other hopes do you have for the future of women in Ireland? 

In an ideal future, we are all equal. There is no more misogyny in the streets or workplaces or education. At a more short-term vision, we must take this momentum and place it on marginalised voices to get their issues out. Women in direct provision will still be unable to afford an abortion or medical care due to the minimum payment they receive per week. It is also important to promote accurate and inclusive sex ed so that we can support people from an early age in regards to reproductive justice. In addition, we must fight for trans healthcare being more accessible.

Jessie Connell, Theatre Maker and Medical Admin, 22, @scumbledeggs
From Co. Laois, currently living in Dublin 

Tell us why you’re voting to repeal the 8th amendment?

There are so many reasons to vote to repeal, but I think at its core, it’s about compassion. This vote is a chance to right an enormous wrong, to finally address how this country treats and has treated women and children. A vote to repeal is not only rational and realistic, but also compassionate. This referendum is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reduce suffering directly, and I cannot fathom voting any other way.

What do you say to those who want to vote ‘No’?

I would ask them where they have been for the children that have been made homeless; Ireland has one of the highest rates of childhood homelessness in Europe. I would ask them where they have been for those who have been sexually assaulted; approximately 25% of Irish women. I would ask them why their concern for children ends at birth and why their concern with abortion is limited to attacking women and not tackling the circumstances that make abortion necessary.

What would a change to the abortion rights in Ireland mean to you?

I’d probably cry for a week if the 8th was repealed. I don’t think I fully feel the weight of it and everything that it represents because it’s always been there. A change would feel like a relief, like putting down something really heavy that you didn’t realise you’d been carrying. I would feel safe, respected and seen by my country. I sincerely hope we all get to feel that.

What other hopes do you have for the future of women in Ireland?

I think this referendum has really mobilised the women of Ireland, and there’s a real sense that enough is enough, and there are so many people willing to stand up and refuse to be silenced. The 8th has really brought so many other issues to light, like how we deal with sexual and domestic violence, child poverty and class issues in this country. I really hope that we can keep this level of political engagement and momentum after the referendum.

Ellen Duffy, Full-time student, 22, @llndffy
From and currently living in Dublin

Tell us why you’re voting to repeal the 8th amendment? 

I’m voting YES to repeal the 8th amendment because I believe that myself and the women of this country deserve to be trusted to decide what is best for our lives and our bodies. I want women to be treated with compassion and care when making a difficult decision. I want my sisters to be safe and free of judgement. Women are more than their reproductive system. We are independent, thinking, feeling, beings. 

What would the repeal of the 8th amendment mean to women in Ireland? 

It would mean a step forward away from these archaic notions that women are merely vessels that can not be trusted with their own bodies. It will be a step towards equality and a more compassionate country that takes care of their citizens. 

How has the current abortion laws in Ireland affected you? 

I don’t want to live in fear of a crisis pregnancy. I fear that if this happens I won’t be able to obtain the necessary healthcare that I deserve because I can’t afford the cost travel to the U.K. I should not have to bare this burden on top of an already stressful situation.

Erica Cody, Singer-Songwriter and Producer, 21 @ericacody
Dublin

Tell us why you’re voting to repeal the 8th amendment? 

I’ll be voting ‘yes’ this Friday. The reasons being is that currently, 9-12 women travel to and from Ireland and the UK every day to access safe and legal abortions. There are so many women in Ireland who are taking and ordering illegal abortion pills online putting their health at severe risk; these abortion pills currently carry a 14-year jail sentence when a rapist’s sentence is just 9 years. I’ll be voting yes, so every woman in Ireland has access to safe and legal health care especially in a time of Need and crisis. Every woman grieves differently, and it should be her choice in how she chooses to do so. 

What do you say to those who want to vote ‘No’? 

Abortions are happening in Ireland regardless of the no campaign want to acknowledge that or not. By voting no you are only pushing women to continue putting their lives at risks by consuming these illegal abortion pills and in severe cases of miscarriage women simply don’t have a choice when their health is at severe risk. It’s devastating as a young woman in Ireland seeing how your reproductive rights are up for debate.

How has the current abortion laws affected the women around you? 

From molar pregnancies to unplanned pregnancies. They’ve either had to travel abroad for a termination while they should be entitled to the appropriate health care at home especially in a time of a tragic pregnancy, no woman should be forced to travel for help in a time of crisis. 

Leanne Woodfull, Blogger and activist, 25, @leannewoodfull
Dublin

Tell us why you’re voting to repeal the 8th amendment? 

I’m voting to repeal the 8th amendment because it’s about time the women* (trans men and non-binary people included) of Ireland are treated as equal citizens, that are deserving of bodily autonomy. Irish citizens deserve the right to choose, the right to safe healthcare and the right to compassion.

What would a change to the abortion rights in Ireland mean to you? 

That I and others have the security and reassurance of safe and legal health care, in a non-judgemental country, that’s been too heavily influenced by a problematic religious organisation. 

What do you say to those who want to vote ‘No’?

Voting No means nothing changes. Abortions happen every single day in Ireland – but they’re unregulated or exported. Voting No won’t stop abortions, you’ll just prevent the safety and legality of them.

Leanne Woodfull with her Grandmother, Mary Lennon Woodfull
Mary Lennon Woodfull, Retired grandmother, 73
Dublin 

Tell us why you’re voting to repeal the 8th amendment? 

So that the women of Ireland have the right to free, safe and legal reproductive healthcare. I’m voting for my granddaughters and the generations after them.

What do you say to those who want to vote ‘No’?

That the 8th amendment has no place in the Irish constitution; by voting ‘No’, you’re voting for and supporting unsafe and/ or unregulated abortions. 

How has the current abortion laws affected the women around you?

I’m a child of 12, so I’ve experienced firsthand the treatment of my grandparents, my mother, my sisters and the women around me over the years. We all know of or have heard of someone who has travelled for abortion services in the UK by now. It’s unacceptable. 

Bernadette Ferguson,  Irish Sign Language/English interpreter, 46
From Bundoran, Co.Donegal currently living  in Glasnevin, Dublin

Tell us why you’re voting to repeal the 8th amendment? 

I’ve been campaigning for Reproductive Rights (although sometimes not as much as I would have liked) since the X Case back in 1992. Although for women, my age and older, crisis pregnancies have been in our consciousness for much longer.  When Ann Lovett, a 15-year-old girl died giving birth to her stillborn son, near a Holy Grotto in Granard, Co.Longford in 1984, her death shook the country. Of course, the nuns told us she went there to give birth to be “near to Our Lady”, but more recent reports of a spirited, intelligent, young woman (thanks to Rosita Boland of the Irish Times) speculate that this may also have been some form of protest. I like to think that is true. Many of us only saw a picture of her for the first time in the last few weeks. The darkness of the Magdalene laundries, numerous Mother and Baby homes, not mention the lack of contraception, still had a stranglehold in those days. It will stay with us for generations. It’s part of the shameful modern history of how Ireland has treated its women. And it was full of shame and a good old dose of Catholic guilt too.

With the X Case, in 1992, a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant after a rape was at the centre of a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. She was suicidal and the case about her right to travel to the UK for an abortion. Eventually, she was allowed to travel, but that case was the start of a movement around the right to travel and the right to information on abortion. I wrote, typed, shouted, stuck and scribbled the phone number for information on abortion so many times, it’s ingrained in my brain! 

6794700. 
There is a generation of Irish women who read it and in their heads shout the reply “WOMEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO GO!” 

That’s the background as to why, but as for the 8th Amendment itself, I don’t want to have a constitution that equates the life of a woman with the foetus she is carrying. Whether she has been raped, whether doesn’t wish to be pregnant, whether she is seriously ill and needs treatment, or whether there is a fatal foetal abnormality and the foetus is not a viable pregnancy. They are equal in the eyes of the law.

Under the 8th Amendment, a woman here loses her legal right to refuse consent to medical treatment and the High court has the ability to force certain medical treatment, including C-sections. In one horrific case, a woman who after a  car crash who was declared clinically dead, was kept on a life support machine because she was pregnant. Her husband and father pleaded to turn the machine off, but she was kept on it until the rotten bitter end. There have been so many cases like this. You could be forgiven for confusing real instances here with scenes from “The Handmaid’s Tale”.  

What would the repeal of the 8th amendment mean to women in Ireland? 

At the moment, everything! This has taken up so much of our lives for so many years. We shouldn’t have to still be doing this. An old woman on the street, proudly wearing her “Yes” badge said to me today “Do you think we’ll get there? I’m nervous. I’m nervous!”. We held each other’s arms and I said “I’m nervous too! And I’m tired. I’m 26 years doing this and there are others doing it even longer!”. We gave each other a hug and reassured each other that we’d get this over the line and even if we didn’t, at least it was all out in the open now. We have well and truly laundered those issues out, there’s no going back. There has been a sea change to how Ireland talks about sex, sexuality, bodies and abortion. 

How has the current abortion laws in Ireland affected you? 

Apart from all the women I’ve known who have either had crisis pregnancies, went to mother and baby homes, hid pregnancies from families, have had to travel to the UK and all of the campaigning over the years…there are a few women who are really important to me and whose names I will be thinking of on the way to the polling station: Ann Lovett, Miss X, Miss C, PP, MsY, Michelle Harte, Irene Teap  (these are just a few) I will think of ALL these women and more on Friday, but the woman whose name will be on my lips as I put my ballot into the box will be Savita Halappanavar. Our pregnancies were two weeks apart. My boy is now 5 years old. She could have survived and had a family. She died so unnecessarily. She died because of the Eighth. 

Adele Odunowo, Behind @CreativeOthers and @adele.babygirl.
Currently lives in County Offaly.

What would you say to people that said no?

That’s their right. We are truly blessed to live in a democratic society, and in a world of 7 billion+ people, we are all not going to agree on anything. It just is what it is. As campaigners/activists, it’s your role to try and get as many people as you can to see why your vote should be seen as the right one.

Other hopes?

A change in rape culture generally, but to begin with – within the judicial system. Throughout the whole system from reporting it to the police all the way to the necessary conviction of the perpetrator, regardless of his status.

Change means to me?

More choice, more options, safer. 

Maimouna Salif, musician, 25,  @celaviedmai
Living in Galway

Tell us why you’re voting to repeal the 8th amendment?

I’m voting ‘Yes’ because it will allow for laws to change so we can provide the right care for women in Ireland. I’m voting ‘Yes’ because everyone has a right to choose what they want to do with their bodies.

What would a change to the abortion rights in Ireland mean to you?

It would mean that women like Savita Halappanavar who died in the hands of the law can finally have justice. A precious life was lost and that should never happen to any of us ever again.

What would the repeal of the 8th amendment mean to women in Ireland?

By voting ‘Yes’ we can ensure that any woman that is told that her developing baby will die before or shortly after birth is taken care of rather than having to travel aboard. It will ensure that any woman diagnosed with fatal foetal pregnancy has the support from medical doctors in Ireland and also the option to end the pregnancy early. Imagine having to be pregnant for 9 months for your baby to die shortly after, it’s unjust that a woman has to suffer mentally and emotionally from such a devastating situation. It’s also extremely traumatising. Imagine carrying this pregnancy and showing pregnancy symptoms and people asking you “when are you due?” how does a woman respond to that? Does she respond “I’m not actually pregnant I’m just carrying a deceased child? I know it sounds extreme but that is the reality some women are facing. Please make the right choice and vote ‘Yes’ don’t allow women to suffer. 

Meet Artist and Musician Laurie Vincent
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