(The referendum happened over four weeks ago and I have spent almost that long writing this blog post. When I started writing about this, I discovered that I had a lot to say on the issue and it took some time to wrangle all those words and feelings into something interesting and coherent and not 5,000 words long, but it felt worth doing.)
At this stage (18 days from the referendum), you probably have to be living under a rock to be online and not know what Together for Yes is; particularly after their huge crowd-funding campaign when they raised half a million euros in seven days. But in case you missed all that, Together For Yes is the National Civil Society Campaign to remove the 8th Amendment from the Constitution. It’s an amalgamation of lots pro-choice organisations who have come together to get a yes vote in the referendum on May 25th.
This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to make Ireland a safer place for pregnant women and to give the women of Ireland control over their own reproductive rights. This yes vote is my no means a done deal. The vote will be very tight and we all need to do our bit to get it over the line.
And really, it should be a yes vote. The only reason to vote no is if you are against abortion in all circumstances and cannot imagine any possible scenario where abortion might be the right and necessary choice. If you feel that’s true, beyond any reasonable doubt, then vote no. But if you do feel that sometimes abortion is an acceptable option, for women who are pregnant as a result of rape for example or when the woman’s health is at risk because of her pregnancy or if there is a diagnosis of fatal foetus abnormality, then you should vote yes. Do it for those women.
And it you know that a yes vote is the only compassionate option and want to see Ireland embrace the compassionate choice, there’s lots you can do to make that happen.
1. Vote! And encouraging others to vote.
Tuesday 8th of May is the last day to register to vote. The form must be stamped by a Garda and be with your local authority by 5pm today. There is still time to get registered, but not much. All forms can be downloaded here.
If you already have that sorted, the most important thing is to go out and vote on May 25th. It’s a Friday. The polls will be open from 7am until 10am. And encourage other people to do it too. We’re a small country, every vote really does count. We cannot assume anything about how this vote is going to go so please talk to friends and family, figure out how and when you’re all going to vote on May 25th.
2. Go canvassing or have the chats at work or at home.
Together for Yes have local groups all over the country going out knocking on doors and talking to people about why they should vote yes. Find your local group and give them a hand. It will mean giving up a few evenings and maybe having a few awkward conversations but it will move us towards a yes vote.
If you can’t go canvassing, maybe have a conversation with work colleagues, friends of family. See how they’re feeling about the referendum, suss out if they have any concerns and maybe make sure they have the correct information. Big areas of misinformation seem to be the fact that the law as it is currently does harm pregnant women, even in a wanted pregnancy and those unrestricted 12 weeks. “Unrestricted” is not the right word to use. A woman will still be making that decision with her doctor, and right now women are buying abortion pills off the internet and taking them up to 12 weeks, which is to my mind is more unrestricted and more dangerous than doing it with the support of a medical professional. Together for Yes have all the facts.
3. Wear a Together for Yes or Repeal badge, t-shirt or a jumper.
If you aren’t able to canvas or feel uncomfortable initiating conversations about the referendum, for whatever reason, wearing a badge is a great way to support the cause and let conversations come to you. Wearing your political intentions on your chest whether it’s a Together For Yes badge or a Repeal jumper tends to get your a few smiles and nods and might even start a conversation or two. It’s a gentle way to support the campaign but there is a great solidarity in seeing all the badges around the place!
Badges and other supportive paraphanilia is available from shops in Dublin, Cork and Galway and from the online shop.
Donating to Together for Yes will help them to print leaflets, hold events and do things like the Conversations Tour which is bringing Together for Yes around the country for the next two weeks.
We need this change to the constitution and we can all do a bit to make it happen. The vote is less than three weeks away. We are ready for this change, we’re been ready for a while. We just need the last little push to get it over the line.
On Saturday August 26th, Artists to Repeal the Eighth are taking over Project Arts Centre and offering a smorgasbord of art in response to the Eighth Amendment. A Day of Testimonies starts at 11am and includes film, live performances, music, installations and discussions. I think it’s going to be a really special day; a galvanising day and hopefully a supportive, buoyant one for those who have had to travel for a termination. The focus is on their words and experiences, it’s their testimonies we will hear, but it’s also saying that they shouldn’t have had to make that journey.
Real people’s experiences should be at the crux of any debate around the Eighth Amendment. Then we have to ask ourselves – do we want to be part of a part nation that treats people like that? We hear often about the 12 women who have to travel every day for a termination, but it’s important to remember that each of those women is an individual with a story to tell and a reason why they have chosen to terminate the pregnancy. I’m grateful to those who choose to share their stories. I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do, and I don’t think it’s something they should have to do. It is a generous thing to do. I want to be there to recognise that generosity, and to bear witness to their stories.
One way these stories will be told during the day is through a number of short films. Entry is free, donations are encouraged. The full line-up is here. I’m very interested in the older films being shown at 1pm and again at 5pm, 50,000 Secret Journeys from 1994 and Statistic from 1983. It’s always interesting to see how far we’re come, or not as the case may be.
I’m also interested in the Bus Stop event – How to Talk About the Eighth. This is happening from 11am – 4pm and it’s informal discussions and debates facilitated by Amnesty International Ireland and Union of Students in Ireland. I imagine it will offer a few tools for talking about the Eighth in the lead up to the referendum which is finally on the horizon. There will also be tea, and maybe a few biscuits!
Anu are performing a new piece called COLONY, every hour on the hour from 11am until 6pm. There’s also an impressive line-up of special guests for the evening programme which starts at 7.30pm. This is only ticketed event on the day but there are still tickets available from Project Arts Centre.
I think it’s a wonderful idea. It offers a chance to connect with others, bolster yourself as we get ready for the next March for Choice and the referendum beyond that. It’s about connecting with people in the real world. For all those people who complain about online activism, here is a real world event that will let you talk to real people in the real world and experience something in real time with other people.
Last weekend, the Citizen’s Assembly met for the third time to listen to experts and discuss the issues around the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. I watched some of the proceedings online. The presentations are still available on the website. The whole thing looks like a staff think-in for a big organisation. Each table has a facilitator, who stood up to speak for the table. It seems to have borrowed the whole set-up from the business world. It’s an interesting entity as a part of democratic process. I like the idea of consulting experts, looking at statistics and having an open, informed discussion about the issue of abortion and reproductive rights but I wish it was happening throughout society and not just in a hotel in Malahide. It’s hard not to see it as anything other than a delaying tactic from a government that does not want to call a referendum on abortion. In the article in the Irish Examiner “Credit where it’s due… and that’s to 99 members of Citizens’ Assembly” about where things stood after the first two meetings it sound very likely that the Assembly are going to recommend a referendum be held, though the terms of that referendum are still up for debate. But I looked at the small print on the Citizen Assembly’s website and it doesn’t seem like the government have to follow the recommendations of the Assembly. The final line on this page says: “the Government will provide in the Houses of the Oireachtas a response to each recommendation of the Assembly and, if accepting the recommendation, will indicate the timeframe it envisages for the holding of any related referendum.” In short, don’t hold your breath waiting for a referendum.
The Irish government have a history of dragging their feet on around abortion. The only abortion referendum that I’ve voted on was the very confusing 2002 one when the government tried to overturn the results of the X case. You had to vote No to leave things as they were, and Yes to make things more restrictive. To confuse matters further Youth Defence came out for a No vote. They didn’t feel it went the wording went far enough because there was no mention of the protective of live for embryos before implantation. (In Irish law, life begins with implantation. That’s why the morning after pill is available though abortion is not.) The amendment was defeated by 51-49% but no legislation on the X case followed. It took 12 years and the death of Savita Halappanavar (and who knows how many other women) before the flawed Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill became law.
Savita’s family did us a great service in talking publicly about her unnecessary death, as did Amanda Mellet who took the case against the State to the UN Court of Human Rights, as did the women known as A, B and C who took the State to the European Court of Human Rights on this issue. These public cases make it difficult for the government to ignore the concerns around reproductive rights. And the campaigners mean the public can’t ignore it either. Five years ago I knew nothing about the Eighth Amendment or how it restricted women’s bodily autonomy. Now everyone seems to have an opinion on it and that’s down to the amazing work of a whole host of campaigners, including many who campaigned against the Amendment when it was first proposed 34 years ago.
At the end of the summer, Una Mullally made a documentary for the Irish Times Womens’ Podcast called ‘The Year The Conversation Changed‘. It’s a really great listen and covers the massive shift in public perception around the Eighth Amendment in 2016. It covers everything from the Repeal jumpers, to Maser’s mural outside Project, to the Rose of Tralee getting political, and at least half a dozen other things that I’m forgetting because so much happened last year!
Things are changing. Attitudes towards abortion are not the same as they were in 1983 when the Eighth Amendment was voted into the Constitution or even the same as they were in 2002 when we last had a referendum on abortion. The government is slowly catching up with that fact, but not quick enough. We need a referendum and it needs to call for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. There should be no replacement and no rewording that makes it impossible to vote for. To reword it would be another delaying tactic. We need to repeal the Amendment because the constitution is not the place to define medical care. And again there are wonderful activists making that position clear. This time with the Strike 4 Repeal on March 8th. There will be no referendum set before then, the strike will definitely go ahead and it feels important to tell the government that there is an appetite for a referendum and that referendum should call for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
Change moves slowly in Ireland, at least at government level. Don’t forget it took them six weeks just to form a government last year. It’s like change isn’t useful to them. It’s not what they want. Our politicians would prefer to be eternally debating things and flinging insults at each other than actually take a political stand or making bold changes. The lack of action on the homelessness crisis and the continued existence of Direct Provision is shameful. Enda Kenny’s strongest stance recently has been to keep things as they are – of course he’s going to the White House for St. Patricks’ Day, it’s traditional. They are meant to represent us but they need a push in the right direction.
Change is happening, whether they like it or not.