Words by Christine Breslin
May 16th, 2018
Whilst sitting at traffic lights in one of Dublin’s chocolate-box neighbourhoods the other day, I watched as a man in his late fifties placed a self- made, anti-abortion placard above a previously positioned pro-choice sign. His poster proclaimed ‘No’ denoting that ‘No’ he does not support repeal of the existing Eighth Amendment. As the lights changed and I drove on, I recalled the denial of choice to Mary McGee, Sheila Hodgers, Savita Halappanavar as a result of this act being in place. However, these were the people that made headlines but for every person whose case became public, there were and are thousands of stories unheard by conservative Ireland.
In the past 35 years, there have been six smaller- scaled referendums to make changes to the contemporary act. Now, as we approach the referendum on May 25th, a merciless national debate and a battle of energy has washed over Ireland- do we or don’t we remove the 1983 Article 40.3.3- the Eight Amendment- that parallels the living mother and the ‘unborn’ foetus from the constitution. In a land classified as free and socially progressive, Ireland is the only developed/European Union country to have this Act embedded in its fundamental principles and is currently one of 65 countries worldwide where it is illegal. Yet, the popular polls reveal a slimmer margin than expected, meaning both sides are widely supported.
Growing up in New York, these were accessible rights and freely made choices, ‘awarded’ to women before my existence, an issue I never believed would affect my being. When I moved to Ireland in 2003 as a teenager, I was shocked by the prevalence of religion in my education, its inclusion on national media outlets as well as the official governance it had on many households throughout the country. Attending a multi-denominational school previously, I never envisaged a nun teaching me how to effectively place a condom on a banana nor learn about abortion from a religious body.
These subjects, only ten years ago, were items we giggled uncomfortably around and older church- abiding generations hushed us ‘silly young ones’ over. But, today what astonishes me further is that, even at an impressionable age, an age where I started to form my opinions, I dismissed, along with many others, the anti-abortion syllabus. Today there is no influencing propaganda necessary, I trust myself as a woman.
Therefore, my choice in the referendum is not solely in support of the abortion procedure. My ‘Yes’ vote denotes that ‘Yes’ I support women receiving suitable medical care, that I support women making their own personal choice because of their own circumstances. I support women in the other 65 countries around the world who, also, do not have this fundamental right. It is my support for abolishing the emotional journey 12 Irish women and girls go on a day and will continue to go on, in spite of the eighth amendment, to procure an abortion. It is my support for the existing female population and our right to govern our own anatomy.
In the midst of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, where woman still must vote for their individual rights, I seek refuge in the words of Barack Obama. Accepting his presidency in 2009, he spoke of 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper, a black woman, who wanted her voice heard and who tried to vote in an election post-slavery. She transcended generations where her fundamental rights were denied, where No became Yes- ‘She lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot’, he stated. Today, with the upcoming election his words further resonate as we reach for the ballot on May 25th after decades of no votes where, hopefully, we can confidently say ‘Yes We Can.’
The referendum will take place on May 25th, 2018 . Ballot boxes to pass the Thirty Sixth Amendment of the Constitutional Act 2018 will open from 7 am to 10 pm.
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