Even if you’re American, Ireland’s 8th Amendment referendum should matter to you — a lot
Basically, we should all be praying for a YES vote rn
If you’re not from Ireland or don’t have a real interested in Irish domestic policy (what, is that not a thing?), you might have missed out on the mounting pressure around the 8th Amendment referendum taking place tomorrow. And that’s fair enough — it’s a small country and outside of that one Ed Sheeran song with Saoirse Ronan, we don’t factor into collective imagination that much.
But if you care at all about women’s rights around the world, you need to care about the referendum. To break it down simply, here’s what it is:
Ireland’s abortion laws are some of the most oppressive in the world. Currently, the 8th Amendment to the country’s constitution awards “equal right to life of the mother and the unborn.” What this means, in theory, is Irish women are only allowed the choice of an abortion in incredibly extreme circumstances in which the mother’s life is at risk.
In reality though, it means Irish doctors are forced to outsource women’s health to other countries. Doctors who help women get an abortion at home and women who choose to take dangerous, pregnancy-terminating pills found online can be punished with up to 14 years in prison.
That’s more than Brock Turner’s sentence for three felony rapes, 28 times over. It’s more than twice Oscar Pistorius’ original sentence for murdering his girlfriend. It’s four years more than the maximum legal sentence for indecent assault on a woman.
It’s a sentence that up to nine women every day (and 170,000 totaly since 1980), avoid by paying to fly to England for abortion services. The flights are often cheap, full of rowdy bachelor and bachelorette parties, rough, and traumatic.
The journey is harrowing from terminal to terminal. For a woman named Amy, who spoke to Sky News about her experience, the international flight meant being forced to carry her child’s remains through customs in a shoebox. After finding out her baby, Nico, wouldn’t survive pregnancy, Amy and her husband were forced to travel to England for an abortion. Because they wanted to bury their child at home, Amy had no choice but to store Nico’s body in the fridge. And they were left to organize the entire thing themselves.
It goes without saying that the 8th Amendment affects young women too, who often have to bring their parents with them to what should be a private, medical procedure. It sounds like a historical horror, but it’s unfortunately an everyday concern for Irish women. Everyone knows someone it’s happened to, or experienced it themselves: A girl they know gets pregnant and is quickly shuttled off to England to take care of it like a dirty secret.
All of this is happening. It’s also though, happening a fucking long way away from most of us. So why does it matter? It sounds cliche but it’s also true that the measure of any society is how well they treat women. In America, sometimes that translates to: Yeah, not actually doing very well, you know! Someone please help! In Ireland, under the current 8th Amendment, it’s even worse.
And what was once considered just “an Irish problem” is now recognized by the rest of the world as a deeper issue with how we treat women everywhere. That’s why today, millions of Irish people all around the world are returning home to vote.
Women’s health treated as a shameful secret might seem like something that can only happen in a dystopian future, or might only happen in a country known primarily for Guinness, themed bars and bad jokes. But letting it slide in certain situations, in certain places, is the start of the end for our right to choose.
If it can happen anywhere, it can happen everywhere.
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