When I went to San Francisco for my J1-visa summer in 1994, I would explain to people how backward Ireland was. “There’s no divorce, even, and certainly no abortion,” I would say.
The issue of gay rights wasn’t remotely on my radar, I confess, so I didn’t even know that gay sex had only been legalised in Ireland the year before, and nobody was thinking about gay marriage back then. It wasn’t relevant to me that contraception had been hard to come by before 1985, because by the time I wanted it, it was there, so I didn’t talk about that either.
Divorce was introduced after a 1995 referendum, gay marriage was legalised in 2015, the first country in the world to do so by national plebiscite, and as of yesterday, the Irish government is finally free to legislate for abortion, so that Irish women can have bodily autonomy even while pregnant. It doesn’t sound like a big thing to ask for. It has been so long coming, and so hard won.
It is such a big thing.
I could tell you about Ann Lovett, and the X case and the C case and the brain-dead pregnant woman and Savita, but you can Google them for yourselves. Those women paved the way, sometimes paying with their lives, for yesterday’s historic, overwhelming, patriarchy-smashing referendum result.
The women who campaigned, who canvassed, who (to quote my FB status, if you don’t mind the repetition) had difficult conversations, shared past experiences, put stickers on their houses and cars, wore badges and sweaters, contributed funds and time and emotional labour, had to endure the No campaign’s horrible posters and lies, wrote impassioned blog posts, and explained things to their small children in the right terms, so that the women and girls of Ireland can look forward to a brighter future where their bodies are more their own than ever before – this is thanks in no small part to their efforts. I am so proud of my friends who did all that and more.
I don’t have a vote in Ireland any more, because you have to be a resident as well as a citizen to vote in a referendum. Only diplomats get postal votes, unlike America. So many people are entitled to an Irish passport, but Irish laws only affect you if you live there, so it’s reasonable. But I’ve been thinking about this all week, I was on edge on Thursday, luckily distracted out of the house on Friday, and delighted with the time difference that let me see the exit polls before dinnertime yesterday.
The exit polls were good. Voting in Ireland is by paper ballot (yes, we are still backwards in some ways; also there’s a saga about voting machines and a lot of money wasted that you don’t want me to go into here) and the counting didn’t start till this (Saturday) morning, but the upside of such a small country is that the exit polls can cover every constituency and are expected to be accurate to within +/- 1.5%. The exit polls predicted a sweeping victory for the yes side – much more than would be affected by a piddling 1.5%. Some people still refused to believe it until everything was counted today.
This is how it looked when everything was counted:
Source: Irish Times online
That’s pretty decisive. It was the biggest voter turnout ever, and every constituency but one returned a yes result. Ireland has finally decided to trust women to make decisions regarding our own bodies. This is monumental. It’s tragic that it’s taken so long.
A special mention has to go to the In Her Shoes facebook page, which has been sharing the harrowing stories of Irish women who travelled for abortions over the past few months. I think those stories swayed a lot of voters – they showed that there but for the grace of accident go any of us who have a uterus. I personally have never been in the position of seeking an abortion, but not because I’m a better person than anyone else, or more careful or less promiscuous. I’m just luckier than women whose contraception failed, for whom the morning-after pill didn’t work, who were raped, molested, abused, who had pregnancies with fatal fetal anomalies, who were trapped in intolerable relationships, who were too young, who couldn’t tell, who couldn’t afford to travel to England, who couldn’t take the time off or find the childcare, whose pills were seized by customs, who bled in pain in taxis and aeroplanes and bathrooms and bedrooms because they were afraid to seek medical advice after a procedure that they weren’t allowed to talk about. Way luckier.
Finally, Ireland is going to stop making women with rotten luck suffer more for it.
Thank you, Ireland.