23 23 April 2018 |Caitlin Doherty | iNews
Next month, Irish voters will be asked in a referendum whether they want to make abortion legal for the first time in the country’s history.
However, for the country’s many ex-pats, this could be a problem: Irish voting regulations are a lot more strict than those in the UK.
Citizens living abroad can only vote if they have been out of Ireland for 18 months or less, and even then, postal votes and proxies are not available. They must turn out to cast their vote in person.
It’s not the first time emigrants have faced this issue. In 2016, Irish expats shared their stories of heading #HomeToVote in the same-sex marriage referendum, using social media to encourage young people to the ballot box. The referendum passed with more than 62 per cent support.
Now, despite the strict rules, an estimated 40,000 Irish citizens living abroad are eligible to vote this time around, and campaigners on both sides are using #HomeToVote to explain why making the journey is so important to them.
i spoke to seven young people about why they are keen to come back, and asked them why they will be repealing or saving the Eighth Amendment.
Blaíthin, a student, has been persuaded to vote Yes by her grandmother’s experiences, but the issue has caused tension with her Dad.
“The anti-abortion dogma is something that is totally against my morals. This has been tough as my Dad is extremely anti-abortion and will be voting ‘No’.
“We have been at one another’s throats about the Eighth Amendment for two years. It has been very eye-opening having an anti-abortion parent, as it has made me see the core of their argument.
“Most of them, like my Dad, genuinely think they are doing the right thing, just like we pro-abortion think we are doing the right thing.
“My grandmother in the early 60s was pregnant with twins and 6 months into the pregnancy she was informed that the babies would not survive. It was FFA [fatal foetal abnormality]. She had to carry to term. They induced her at the ninth month to perform a stillbirth. She had no choice. I want the women of Ireland today to have the choice that she didn’t.”
Seáinín Brádaigh, 27
Seáinín Brádaigh is returning to County Monaghan on the Irish border to save the Eighth, but is sympathetic to the complexities of this “very personal issue”.
“It will be an emphatic No from me,” he told i.
“[The Eighth Amendment] is a frank statement on the inherent dignity of human life. Ireland should be a place where every life – no matter how seemingly insignificant, no matter how short – is valued and cherished.
“The support for Repeal is overwhelming amongst younger people, [and so] if you come out in favour of retaining the Eighth, you can be labelled by a small but very vocal minority of Repeal supporters as a woman hater, a bigot or a misogynist and that is never pleasant.
“Honestly, when I consider the hard cases like rape and foetal abnormalities, I am sympathetic to the repeal side. It’s difficult to have a monolithic view on what is an incredibly complex and personal issue. That being said, I have always been anti-abortion.”
Emma Arnold, 25
Emma Arnold moved to Barcelona a year ago, and has raised money on GoFundMe to afford her flights back to Dublin in support of repeal.
“I remember being approached by a pro-life campaigner when I was about 13. She told me horrible stories about abortion and murder; she showed me graphic images and asked me to sign a petition which I did.
“She gave me a leaflet with a poem on the back, written as if narrated by a foetus. I cried on the bus home. I assumed myself to be pro-life at this time.
“Thankfully, my parents questioned it, [but] I didn’t really have much of an opinion on abortion until I was in my late teens and saw how much of an effect our laws have on Irish women.
“Every Irish woman deserves the right to be able to make the decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy for her self.”
Suzanne Murray, 33
Suzanne will be returning from London to vote No, and believes that the Irish government can’t be trusted to handle the issue sensitively .
“Having looked at the facts and considered the issues raised from both sides, I truly believe in the right to life […] It’s unthinkable that abortion might be considered a right, but a few months later when the baby is born, taking its life is considered murder.
“The electorate are being asked to simply hand over the right to life to a government that have continually broken promises and failed the people. It’s wholly unaccaptable that we have a government pushing for repeal, but not offering any alternatives to abortion.
“Women deserve better and we can certainly do a lot better in Ireland. It’s not prgressive in any way – in 2018 – to think that this is the only solution.”
Rachel Lally, 26
Rachel Lally will be making the day-long journey to Limerick from Kentucky to vote Yes in the referendum
“When I was younger, I considered the other side, ‘how could somebody kill a baby?’, right? As I have grown and seen a little more, I know that it isn’t so black and white. Nothing is, after all.
“In Ireland, we have a shameful past with the treatment of our so-called ‘fallen’ women and children, remnants of which still exist today.
“If the Eighth Amendment is removed, nobody is forcing anyone to have an abortion. It’s just providing an option to women. The option to allow a woman to be in control of her life and her body. Live and let live.
Karen Ni Loideáin, 27
Karen currently lives in London, but will be returning to Ireland to vote No because she thinks that the current legislation keeps both women and unborn children safe.
“The Eighth Amendment allows Irish doctors to prioritise the life of the mother if her life is at risk. This has kept our maternal mortality rate low and Ireland is one of the safest places in the world to have a baby.
“Abortion legislation will be left in the hands of our politicians, which I don’t think is a good idea given their inconsistent stance and flipflopping on the issue. I don’t trust them.
“A human life whose heart has been beating from 18-21 days after conception is an indisputable scientific fact. Everyone deserves a chance at life, not just the perfect, the planned or the privileged. That’s why I’m going home to vote No.”
Ailbhe Coleman, 21
Ailbhe Coleman is studying in Stockholm, but will return to County Wexford to vote Yes on 25 May.
“The 8th Amendment doesn’t prevent abortions, it prevents safe abortions,” she said.
“It’s time that Ireland stops exporting this problem across the Irish Sea. Pregnant people should be afforded trust and respect to make choices for their bodies.”
“Being pro-choice is the passionate and respectful option. Being pro-choice is the middle ground and means that I would not make a choice for anyone else given their circumstances.”