Feminism International Politics

Repeal the 8th: We need to be campaigning harder and louder than ever

We can’t get complacent just yet

By Charlotte Molloy

On the 25th of May 2018, Irish voters will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, which is the republic’s constitutional ban on all abortions – no matter the circumstances.

It is absolutely imperative that in these precious last weeks we campaign as hard as we can for a yes vote to repeal this abhorrent law. This is for two reasons.

The first is the frankly frightening impact the amendment has had on Irish women’s lives.

Picture this. You’re a 31-year-old dentist living on the beautiful and peaceful west coast of Ireland, with your whole life and a loving husband before you. 17 weeks into your pregnancy you have been admitted to hospital with severe back pains.

Terrifyingly, it appears that not only have you suffered a heart-breaking miscarriage, but as a result your body is being overcome by septicemia which, if left untreated, will kill you.

There is one hope. A medical termination of your pregnancy would stop the septicmia and save your life. You know this and plead desperately with the doctors to carry out this procedure and save your life. They say no.

Not because they have a safer and more effective course of action in mind. Not because there is any logic behind their answer. But because…

“This is a catholic country.”

In a single sentence, a family lost their daughter, a husband lost his wife, and you lost your life.

In five short words, a kindly middle-aged nurse, whose words were legally supported by the eighth amendment of the Irish Republic’s constitution, has sentenced you to death.

The woman and circumstances that I have asked you to picture was completely real. Her name was Savita Halappanavar, and she died at University College Hospital Galway on 21st of October 2012 under the exact circumstances I have asked you to picture.

Without the eighth amendment, Savita and thousands of women like her may have gone on to lead full and happy lives.

Words cannot fully describe the extent of the tragedy and trauma that the eighth amendment has caused generations of Irish women and their families. Rape victims have been forced to carry their attacker’s child and raise it, despite the fact it’s a constant reminder of that trauma.

Teenage girls have been forced to flee their country like fugitives, often on their own and at great expense, to seek abortions in England. 3,625 in 2016 alone to be precise. If this law is not repealed generations more will suffer the same fate.

The second reason I believe we need to campaign as hard as we can for a yes in this last few weeks, is because to be honest… we seem to be losing support to the No campaign.

The Yes campaign, supporting the repeal of the eighth amendment, has wide drawn support from all across Irish society.

All of the major parties in the Dail (parliament) and indeed Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar support repeal.  A video released earlier this month starring Saoirse Ronan and several other Irish actors urged people to vote yes to the repeal. Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the past couple of years to protest for the eighths’ repeal.

This widespread popular support until recent weeks was also reflected in the polls. An Irish Times survey in early April found that 63% of voters intended to vote yes compared to 37% who intended to vote no.

With seemingly everybody from our Hollywood elites to our ordinary folks on the streets supporting the yes campaign, it would be easy for us to think that we have the repeal in the bag.

However, we cannot become complacent in these last few critical weeks – the No side appears to be severely diminishing support for Yes campaign.

Publicly, the No side has largely been characterised by posters of distasteful posters of talking foetus’ asking voters not to kill them and the equally abhorrent “men protect children” advert featured below.

Despite the public condemnation of the No campaign, particularly with regard to their posters, a significant and growing proportion of Irish voters seem to agree with them.

According to a poll by Milward Brown on the 6th of May, only 45% of Irish voters intend to vote yes in the referendum. Although the Irish Catholic church has been notably absent from the public debates in the campaign, its presence and potential to sway Irish voters against the repeal must not be underestimated.

The eighth amendment itself is still firmly rooted in Ireland’s moral teachings and its rural and elderly populations, who make up a significant proportion of the electorate. It’s going to be exceptionally hard to sway these voters to vote yes when they believe the principle of the eighth amendment to quite literally be the gospel truth.

With agonising life experiences of Irish women living in the shadow of the eighth amendment in mind, and a vote to repeal it far from the forgone conclusion the media presentation of the referendum may suggest, I believe we need to campaign harder than ever in these precious last weeks. Lives are literally at stake.

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