Sometimes I think I live in the best country in the world.
Green fields, Guinness and Riverdance — what more could you want? Sometimes, walking the streets of Dublin makes me emotional.
I think of my ancestors who were exiled for stealing food during the Great Famine. I imagine how they would rejoice if they discovered the freedom and richness of Irish soil today. I think of the men and women who fought and died for my freedom on Easter Sunday 1916.
But lately, my vision of Ireland has darkened. Ireland has a deadly weapon, one that affects the lives of nearly every woman on Irish soil. It’s called the Eighth Amendment.
The Eighth Amendment was added to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland in 1983. It equates the right to life of a pregnant woman with that of her fetus, thereby nearly criminalizing abortion.
If any woman is found to have an abortion in Ireland, for any reason including rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormalities, she could face up to 14 years in prison.
Abortion is legal in Ireland in instances where there is a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the mother.
The words “real and substantial” terrify patients and doctors in Ireland, because nobody is really sure what “real and substantial” means in the case of an abortion.
If doctors decide something is real and substantial and the state says otherwise, both the doctor and the patient face criminal conviction, even if the woman’s life was truly in danger.
As a result of this vague definition and its consequences, doctors advise women to travel to Great Britain should they need or choose to have an abortion.
Since 1983, an estimated 170,000 women have left Ireland to seek abortion care.
I am in pain when I am reminded of the horrific journey that many of my friends have taken and one that I may have to take someday. Any woman I’ve ever met who has embarked on this journey has said that travelling to England has grossly multiplied the emotional and physical pain of their abortions.
So where does this leave the status of pregnant women in Ireland today?
On Friday, we are hoping to fix the mistakes of the referendum in 1983. On Friday, every Irish citizen will have the opportunity to vote either “yes” or “no” to abolishing the Eighth Amendment.
If you were to walk the streets of Dublin right now, you would see many men and women wearing jumpers and badges that say “Repeal” or “Save the 8th”.
If the Eighth Amendment is not repealed, the women of Ireland will not have full control over their own bodies, and they will continue to be exiled to England every day.
If the Eighth Amendment is not repealed, husbands and wives will continue to be criminalized and exiled because their unborn child will not survive birth.
If the Eighth Amendment is not repealed, women’s pregnancies will continue to be jeopardized.
If the Eighth Amendment is not repealed, many people like me will lose their faith and love of Ireland.
Repealing the Eighth Amendment is an act of compassion and protection for the women and families of Ireland.
It is time to trust women of Ireland with their own bodies.