On the 25th May, Irish voters have the chance to repeal the 1983 8th amendment which currently equates the life of an unborn fetus with that of a pregnant person, criminalising abortion in most cases. Hate spoke to activist, Michelle McCann, from Dundalk’s Together For Yes group about the campaign to repeal the 8th, and why legalising abortion is so vital.
What does the Together For Yes campaign stand for?
Together For Yes (T4Y) is the national civil society campaign to remove the 8th amendment from the Irish Constitution. The 8th amendment recognises the equal right to life of the pregnant person and "the unborn", be it a zygote, embryo, or fetus. This means that abortion is banned in almost all circumstances. It is an archaic law that has resulted in dangerous pregnancies, forced travel for healthcare, hardship and suffering in an already stressful situation, and tragically the deaths of many women.
What is the current situation regarding abortion, and what needs to change?
Abortion already exists in Ireland. Nine pregnant people a day travel to the UK to access abortion care. Between two and five order pills online. The maximum sentence for taking these pills is fourteen years in prison. They are safe when regulated and taken under medical supervision. However, as this is a criminal offence, people are often scared to follow up with their doctors afterwards. Underground networks, such as Need Abortion Ireland, provide an excellent, anonymous service for those seeking abortion. The reality is Irish women and pregnant people text an unknown helpline to pick up the abortion pill delivered to them by a kind stranger. Not from their GP, not from a private clinic or hospital, like our neighbours in the UK have access to.
The 8th amendment needs to be removed before the Government can move forward with the proposed legislation. It will still be many months before abortion access is available in Ireland. Nine people a day will still travel to the UK.
Can you explain a bit about how the campaign has been running?
T4Y is an umbrella group, consisting of other organisations, regional and communities groups. I work with the T4Y group in my hometown of Dundalk. Over the past two and a half months, when the campaign was officially launched, we have been canvassing door-to-door, running an information stall in the town centre, we held an information evening, an art exhibition, and also fundraisers and promotional events. Prior to that the group met up to hold events, coffee mornings and to distribute their literature.
Have you faced any negative criticism or challenges?
Yes. Most of the criticism and aggression I have faced has been at our information stall. Obviously people who think abortion is wrong are following their own moral compass and doing what they believe is right. However there have been times where we were met with such aggressive behaviour and disrespect, it is clear that people fail to recognise that we have a right to even distribute this information on what a yes vote means to the public. Surprisingly the door-to-door canvassing has been less challenging. Maybe because people are caught off guard, or because we're standing at the doorway of their home.
From these interactions, and further discourse surrounding this referendum, the thing I have been most disappointed by is the deep mistrust people still have of women. Thinly-veiled misogyny is still so prevalent in Ireland. The history of our healthcare system, so heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, is exemplary of how dangerously misogyny affects the lives of women to this day.
How important is repealing the 8th amendment?
Repealing the 8th is vital for all healthy pregnancies, and for those with unwanted pregnancies, for victims of rape or incest, for parents of babies with fatal fetal abnormalities, all forced to carry their pregnancy to term under current law.
How can the public help to support the campaign?
With only a few days left to go, the best thing the public can do is talk to their friends and family about the vote. Call your granny. Ask her if she wants to chat about what a yes vote means, or if she needs a lift to the polling station. Wear all the badges, t-shirt and jumpers you can squeeze on (not to the polling station!) Visibility and communication are key right now. Also, be kind to your yes-canvassers!
Most importantly, GO VOTE! People can vote at their local polling station. Go to checktheregister.ie if you don't know where yours is. You should receive your polling card in the post, though don't stress if you don't, you can still vote without one. Take photo ID, such as a passport or public services card. DO NOT wear any yes badges or repeal merchandise to your polling station. DO NOT take selfies in the polling station, this will spoil your vote. We are running a car service on the day of the vote, for people who have difficulty with mobility or can't make it to their polling station for whatever reason. Contact us!