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With one month to go until Ireland’s abortion referendum, Irish women need your help

To assume that Irish abortion is a shoo-in would do the Irish women fighting for Repeal the Eighth a huge disservice, says Caroline O’Donoghue. Stand beside us. Here's how

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

The Irish are, famously, a pretty well-liked nation. We’re supposed to have poetic natures, adaptable temperaments and be good at parties.

And, trust me – no one likes us more than us. In 2015, thousands of Irish expats flocked home to vote in favour of marriage equality and our backs have – justifiably! – been worn out from patting ourselves ever since. Aren’t we a civilised nation? Aren’t we adorably left-wing? Just look at us: what was formerly thought of as the most conservative, God-fearing country in the Western world has declared that #LoveIsLove and, for once, is on the right side of history.

It’s now three years later, and, with exactly one month to go, you would be forgiven for thinking that the referendum to legalise abortion in Ireland is a shoo-in. That Ireland – the home of massive tech companies like Google, Apple and Facebook; the once-again booming economy that no longer has to export its young people in order to make successes out of them; the place that has thrown off Catholicism like an ill-fitting suit – is ready to repeal the eighth amendment.

But to underestimate the bone-deep conservatism alive in Ireland is to do its women a serious injustice. This is the country that, as recently as 1995, passed divorce into law by a minute margin of 50.28 per cent to 49.72 per cent. On my last trip home two weeks ago, I felt my skin prickle and tighten on my drive from Cork airport to my family home. I saw hundreds of photos of wombs and foetuses lining the leafy suburbs that I grew up in; I spoke to successful, city-dwelling Gen X’ers who smiled tightly and said they would “rather not discuss it”; my mother, while voting yes herself, said she felt a great quietness among her peer group. Despite having grown up in Ireland, I felt bamboozled. I had fooled myself into thinking – with all the online support I had been seeing – that my corner of the internet represented the voting habits of an entire country. The latest poll from The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI says that just under half of Irish people plan to vote yes, with 20 per cent still “not sure”. To many, it feels like a bizarre thing to be “not sure” about; you either believe in safe, legal abortions, or you believe in unsafe, illegal ones. As author Anne Enright recently wrote, it’s not that these people don’t know that these abortions are happening, regardless of whether or not they happen in Ireland, it’s that they “found abortion, in general, hard to vote ‘for’.”

“There is a wonderful sense of solidarity and fantastic support on the streets and on the doors from those who understand how crucial it is that we win this and change things for the women and people in Ireland, which is so incredibly heartening,” says Ashling Cronin, a Dublin-based campaigner for Together For Yes. “By that same token though, we can’t allow this to make us complacent. This is far from won.”

Just think: in every departures lounge in London sits a woman who has just endured a terrifying, emotionally bruising trip to terminate a pregnancy

“There is so much misinformation out there,” Cronin continues. “It’s on leaflets, posters, it’s on our streets and going from door to door, too. The narrative is being twisted and fear and scaremongering is being actively used in an effort to dissuade people from critical thinking and to maintain the status quo.”

The rights of Irish women are not, and have never been, a shoo-in. And whether you’re Irish, of Irish descent, or have never been there in your life, it behooves everyone in England – the country that is receiving these terminations, daily and silently – to lend their support to the Irish and Northern Irish women fighting for the right to medical care in their own countries. We need your help urgently and imminently. Here's how you can stand beside us.


“We actually run letter-writing workshops,” says Hannah Little of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. “You may not have a vote, but your voice and your opinion still matters, especially when it comes to generation immigration. It’s important to have our names in the papers.”

If you have immigrated, or perhaps are second- or third-generation Irish, write into Irish newspapers or one of the print publications aimed at expats in the UK. The Irish Post and The Irish World are both based in England and have huge readerships among Irish people who still have big families based in Ireland. Write in: it’s a great way to reach older, offline people.


“Get involved in the hashtag, support on social media, but as well, it’s important when you see misinformation or graphic images to flag and report them. I’m not saying get involved in Twitter wars – far from it,” says Little. “But, particularly, English women can lend their support online in the lead up to the referendum.”


“Get a solidarity going with your Irish and Northern Irish sisters. This is only one half of the campaign. After the referendum, we’ll be moving on to securing free, safe, legal abortions for women in Northern Ireland,” says Little, and it’s an important point. It can be so easy for issues to slide off into the ether, particularly when the urgency of a referendum creates such fatigue. If you’re involved in feminist groups, make it your business to make sure that Irish abortion rights remains on the agenda.


While UK women can’t directly support the Together For Yes campaign, there’s still so many ways you can vote with your wallet. Donate to Marie Stopes or the Abortion Support Network. The “Healthcare, not Airfare” luggage tag is not only a brilliant way to support the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, but is also a show of solidarity every single time you walk through an airport this summer. Just think: in every departures lounge in London sits a woman who has just endured a terrifying, emotionally bruising trip to terminate a pregnancy.

When she looks down at your bag, let her know that you’re with her.


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Photo: Alamy
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