LOUISE O'NEILL: 'I am fearful that fatigue may be become an issue for those in the middle, those who are unsure of how they are going to vote'

With a month left until the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, campaigning has intensified on both sides, writes Louise O’Neill.

I was working on a stall in Clonakilty recently, handing out leaflets and answering any questions the locals might have about the referendum. 

Some people politely declined a leaflet, a great many others expressed their determination to vote in favour of repeal (particularly older women, interestingly enough), but despite our friendly and non-confrontational attitude, a number of people crossed the road to avoid us. 

I observed the exact same thing a few days later when it was a Save the Eighth canvassing stall, and it gave me pause. There are very passionate voices on both the anti-choice and the pro-choice side, but I am fearful that fatigue may become an issue for those in the middle, those who are unsure of how they are going to vote but are becoming quickly tired of the ‘debate’. 

I am reluctant to refer to it as such, because there shouldn’t be a debate around protecting women and offering them appropriate healthcare in their home country. There is no denying the facts - from Sheila Hodgers to Savita Halappanavar, women have died because of the eighth amendment and its existence in our constitution is an ever-present danger to our lives. There is no time left for complacency. 

The anti-choice side appears to have incredible financial resources, plastering the streets with distressing images and posters. Although anti-choice campaigner John McGuirk has strenuously denied any links to the highly controversial Cambridge Analytica (a firm closely linked with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump and which has come under fire recently for alleged breaches of security), a recent report in The Journal found the anti-choice side had hired the UK consultancy firm Kanto, whose company’s director previously worked with Cambridge Analytica. 

The margin in 1995’s divorce referendum was breathtakingly slim, approximately 9000 votes between those in favour and those against. We cannot take any chances in May – we need to vote, and we need to mobilise our friends and family to vote too. 

That might necessitate uncomfortable conversations, but what is the alternative? The situation as it stands is untenable and cannot be allowed to continue. As the formidable activist Tara Flynn said, “you are not being asked to vote for or against abortion. You are being asked to vote for or against safe, rather than unsafe, abortion”. 

As I keep repeating – Irish women have abortions. 

They have always had abortions and they will continue to have abortions. All the eighth amendment does is force women to travel when they are at their most vulnerable, or, due to financial constraints, prohibits women from travelling at all, forcing them to remain pregnant against their will. 

So if you are feeling fatigued with the campaign, if the words ‘repeal’ and ‘abortion rights’ make you change channel or turn the radio off, please ask yourself – do you want to live in a country that sees enforced pregnancies as anyway acceptable? 

If you are ambivalent because this referendum “has nothing to do with me”, then congratulations – you are pro-choice. 

Being pro-choice does not mean that you are pro-abortion, it just means that you don’t believe that you have the right to control another human being’s choices, life, or body. We cannot allow scare-mongering and misinformation to distract us from what is at stake here, or to forget how vitally important each and every vote is going to be in May.

But for all of my fears around the campaign, my trepidation concerning the underhand and exploitative tactics that might be employed by the anti-choice side in the weeks ahead and the unimaginable hurt those tactics will cause people with personal experience of abortion, I have been consistently inspired by the pro-choice campaign. 

The tireless and often thankless work by activists within the Abortion Rights Campaign, the Repeal Project, Together For Yes, and many more besides, has been nothing short of breathtaking. 

I have also been galvanised by the energy and determination of those coming up behind me, young women in Repeal sweaters and with fire in their bellies, determined to make Ireland a fairer, more equal place. I will give the final say to one such woman - Aisling Hayes, a student at NUIG and member of Galway Pro-Choice whose Facebook post went viral recently. 

She wrote: “If you wouldn’t force a 12 year old rape victim to give birth, you support repeal. If you wouldn’t force someone to spend months carrying a child that will die trying to take its first breath, you support repeal. If you wouldn’t force a homeless person to stay pregnant, you support repeal. If you wouldn’t force a woman who already has children to risk leaving them motherless, you support repeal. If you wouldn’t force a person with a chronic illness to be crippled and possibly killed by pregnancy, you support repeal. If you wouldn’t use a brain-dead person as an incubator, you support repeal. If you wouldn’t send a woman to prison for 14 years for procuring an abortion, you support repeal. If you trust women, you support repeal.”

And if you support repeal, I say, then please, please, please – get out and vote on May 25. This is a moment of reckoning for Irish society. It is a chance for us to show the world that we are a progressive, forward thinking country which believes in compassionate health care for women. This is our time to prove that we trust Irish women to make the right decisions regarding their own bodies, their own lives. Are you with us?


READ: Repeal The 8th. Una Mullally edited this anthology of stories, essays, and photography inspired by the movement for reproductive rights in Ireland. Featuring writers such as Anne Enright, Lisa McInerney, and Caitlin Moran, this is a collection that is not to be missed.

READ: Autonomy. Edited by Cork’s own Kathy D’Arcy, this is a women-led collection of creative writing exploring bodily autonomy. All proceeds from thesales of the book will go to the Together for Yes campaign.

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