Post-referendum brain dump. Tl;dr: Ireland trusts women

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.

 

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I’m probably not going to publish this, I said, and kept it in Drafts for a month

… But then yesterday happened, showing that Planned Parenthood’s patrons now have to run the gauntlet not just of grumpy entitled protesters but also madmen with guns. So I pulled this out of my Drafts folder after all.

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There’s a business I drive by quite often locally, opposite the mall where our local Target is. I would never have noticed it, or its small sign that says Family Planning Clinic, if it weren’t for the people who loiter outside it. They loiter with intent, carrying placards and judgement. They saunter up and down outside, chatting to each other, pleased with their overt expression of what good people they are. They hang around, doing the right thing. I don’t know if they have a roster or a volunteerspot to make sure someone’s always there, or if they only show up on certain days, but lately whenever I go by I’ve noticed their presence.

I’m never there for long, just stopped at a traffic light now and then, so I’ve never seen anyone go in or come out of the medical establishment. But I can imagine how it goes. I can imagine a young woman – very young, or maybe not so young – with a friend for support or alone, unhappy and facing up to a difficult decision. It was hard enough to get to this point, to get time off work, to sneak away, to find out where and how and when and how much. To worry and wonder and buy the test and take the test and look at the two little pink lines and know what they mean for her life. To decide, or to have the decision made by circumstances beyond her control. Now she has to run the gauntlet of all these good people ostentatiously doing their right thing. Seven or eight of them, barring her way, or maybe just standing watching as she walks to the door: disapproving, feeling superior, shrouded in their smugness, proffering pamphlets and pointedly placarding.

I never saw myself as a crusader for abortion rights. But I long wondered how anyone who had never experienced a pregnancy could make a decision about it. Last week I posted about abortion rights on my personal Facebook page, because the longer I spend being a woman – that’s my whole life so far, if you weren’t paying attention – the angrier I get to see governments that are mostly made up of men thinking they get to make decisions about other people’s bodies.

In Ireland, abortion is still illegal. There’s a very tiny clause that talks about how “if the life of the mother is at stake” it may take place, but in practice, even when a woman is bleeding out on the operation table with a pregnancy that’s clearly not viable, doctors hesitate to do what needs to be done. Never mind trying to prove to a jury that you’re suicidal because you were raped and you’re a teenager in a foreign country and you just want to get this horrible nightmare over with.

Irish women go to the UK for abortions. This, obviously, adds to the time it takes to arrange and the mental and economic strain to sort it out, leading to more dangerous later-term abortions for Irish women. The UN Human Rights Committee has called Ireland out on this and said the law must be amended, but nothing has changed yet.

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I stopped there, because I’d run out of indignant steam, and because I was talking in generalities and couldn’t find the news articles to back up my assertions. Then again, there are probably news articles to back up any assertions you want to make, in Ireland or America, about whatever your topic is. I’m sure Fox News has plenty of stories about how evil Planned Parenthood is, and the Iona Institute will tell you how much better off Irish women are because abortion isn’t an option in their country.

 

If you’d like to read more about the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland, or get involved, you can go to the Abortion Rights Campaign‘s website.

If you are experiencing a crisis pregnancy in Ireland, the Well Woman Centre is somewhere you can go for impartial advice covering all your options.