I was stopped at some traffic lights today when I overheard a fragment of the conversation between two men just behind me. One of them remarked on how little neutral information was circulating in anticipation of Friday’s vote. It got me thinking- and that is very dangerous.
As I write this, it is about ten o’clock in the evening on the 23rd of May, 2018. This Friday, the people of Ireland will rally to vote in what is arguably the most controversial referendum that this country has seen, a vote on whether we should keep or repeal the eighth amendment to our constitution. The eighth amendment, first introduced in 1983, states;
“The State acknowledges the right to life of all the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life as the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as predictable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
What the hell does that mean? It means that the rights of unborn foetuses are equal to the rights of the woman carrying them. It means that pregnant women may not obtain an abortion, or she and/or the persons carrying out the procedure will be prosecuted and face a hefty fine and a sentence of jail time up to 14 years (that is not a typo). In cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, it is illegal for a woman to abort any resulting pregnancy. If a woman is sick and a pregnancy may complicate her condition, she still may not have an abortion unless there is an extreme and immediate threat to her life. Risk of suicide is not a sufficient cause for abortion and even if a pregnant woman is technically dead, her body will be kept on life-support until the baby can be delivered. Essentially, by voting No, people are voting to keep the amendment in place, as it stands currently. By voting Yes, people are voting to repeal that amendment, which means adapting our constitutional law with regard to termination of pregnancy. This is important- it is not a vote for or against abortion; a Yes majority would result in a change to the amendment. It is not a vote for abortion, it is a vote for choice.
Campaigns for both sides have come out all guns blazing but, like the guys at the traffic lights were saying, there seems to be little to no information readily available for the voter that is on the fence. The information provided on official websites is, of course, unbiased, but, it is a slew of big words, long sentences, and a teeny, tiny font. So- for posterity- if you scroll down, you will be able to read a list of bullet points I have put together regarding Friday’s vote, what the eighth amendment is, what a Yes vote would mean and what a No vote would mean. This list is intended to be factual and non-biased, if you haven’t made up your mind yet, or even if you have, it’s never a bad thing to educate yourself.
Personally, my mind is made up. I feel as though I understand (for the most part) what is being asked by this referendum, I’ve examined my own moral compass and reached a conclusion that is aligned with my beliefs and I feel confident that I understand what I am voting for on Friday. A Repeal t-shirt or a giant NO on the side of a mountain did not help me to make my decision.
I feel like what I’m about to say is going to going to receive a very negative response- which, in itself, is an example of what it is I’m about to say. I, Clodagh Ní Fhaoláin, have an issue with the Repeal Campaign. What did she just say? Sacrilege, I know, but hear me out. Both the Yes and No sides have their own campaigning bodies; the Yes side have the Together for Yes campaign and the No side have the LoveBoth both campaign. Both groups have been vocal and persistent in championing their cause, you see people on the street wearing Yes stickers and No stickers, there are people from both sides handing out fliers and putting up posters, all the same things as we in 2015 in the lead-up to the marriage-equality referendum. This referendum is very similar to that in many ways, although it is fair to say that no referendum in our past has had such literal life or death ramifications of its’ outcome. Much like in 2015, the No vote is made up by a majority of older people, while the Yes vote has a much stronger body of young people behind it. At least, that’s how it appears from the news and media, particularly social media. This is where my disillusionment with the Repeal campaign began to creep in. Repeal the 8th started cropping up on social media more than two years ago. When I first saw it, I didn’t know what the 8th was or why we should be repealing it. I probably didn’t even know it was referring to a constitutional amendment. Now, a couple of years on and very close to polling day, I see all these young men and women on the street wearing their Repeal jumpers and t-shirts and can’t help but think that this is one of the most powerful guerrilla campaign tactics I’ve ever seen. On Instagram, the hashtag “#repealthe8th” has almost 85,000 posts. Celebrities at home and abroad have all publicly supported the Repeal campaign, including big named stars like Liam Neeson, Saoirse Ronan, Cillian Murphy, Bono, Chris O’Dowd and Jimmy Carr, to name but a few. There is a pop-up shop where you can buy Repeal paraphernalia like jumpers and t-shirts. You can also buy these on Amazon! Yep. Free shipping within the UK, but you have to pay for shipping to Ireland. No further comment.
My issue is this; this campaign has been simplified by the media to a Yes or a No. We saw the mural on the wall of the Project Arts Centre saying REPEAL and the giant NO on the side of Benbulben. The hashtag #repeal is guaranteed to get you more hits on your Twitter or Instagram. Photos of celebrities wearing their Repeal jumpers are all over social media and almost everyone over 18 and under 30 can be seen walking around town in their own Repeal jumpers (town being Dublin, I can’t say I know what it’s like in the rest of the country). It’s great that the younger demographic is coming out in support of a political cause, it truly is, however- wearing the jumper, posting photos of a mural on your Instagram or Tweeting #repeal8 is not the same as voting. That is terribly important- there is an entire generation that only believe in the achievements you can Tweet about or write a good Facebook post about. Sadly, a huge number of the people in this demographic, despite being obviously in favour of one side or the other on their various social media accounts, are not actually registered to vote. Over 125,000 people under the age of 25 in fact, have not registered to vote, and this is the group most likely to vote Yes.
My issue is this; all the propaganda of this referendum has been targeted largely to young voters, through the medium social media. This group of people has grown up with the often-times reality that popularity on Instagram equates to success in real-life. The success in the sales of Repeal jumpers (free delivery within the UK) may be enough to convince this generation that a Yes outcome is secured. The fact is, just 6 days ago, the Irish Times published a poll in which only 44% were in support of the Yes campaign, while a close 32% were in support of No. A huge 17% were still unsure, while 5 % said they will not vote, and 2% refused to answer. The margins are very slim.
It is too late to register to vote. If you have registered, please, even if it means a long bus or train journey, get yourself to a polling station. The outcome of this vote is so significant. Social media has undoubtedly been intrinsic in spreading awareness of Friday’s referendum, we just have to make sure that the multitude of voices have legs too.
I will be traveling to vote on Friday. Independent of the love-heart Repeal mural, the Repeal jumpers, and the celebrity endorsements, I have chosen to vote Yes. In 1995, when the referendum on divorce was taking place, we were the only country in Europe where divorce was illegal. Now, we are the only country in Europe where abortion is still illegal. It’s difficult to get accurate figures on this for obvious reasons, but somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000 women are estimated to make the journey to England to receive an abortion every single year. I do not want to live in a country that renders any of its’ people second class citizens. Currently, if you are pregnant then your rights are not the same as everyone else’s. I want to live in a country where bodily autonomy is a real thing and where my life and my body is valued as highly as any man’s. I want to know that in the event of a pregnancy not being viable for a woman, whether it be for medical or social reasons, that she can receive a free, safe, legal termination. I’m not voting Yes for abortion, I’m voting Yes for choice.
If you’re reading this, I hope it’s still pre-vote and that if you haven’t already decided which way to vote, or, if you’re going to vote at all. I hope you have the opportunity to get yourself to that polling station and to be part of making Ireland the Ireland that all of its people deserve.
“I raise up my voice- not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard… We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
· Malala Yousafzai
See you on polling day,
· The 8th Ammendment was introduced, as is, in 1983 and was voted in by a huge majority.
· Under the 8th Amendment, abortion is a criminal offence in almost all circumstances.
· The abortion pill is equally illegal.
· The cut-off date to register to vote was May 8th.
· You must bring ID with you when going to vote.
· DO NOT TAKE SELFIES IN THE POLLING BOOTH. Any photography at all will render your vote null and void. Again, NO SELFIES.
· Repealing the 8th would allow the government to legislate for abortion up to 12 weeks.
· Abortion is currently available, but only when a serious and immediate threat is posed to the woman’s life. Even then, it takes three medical professionals to sign off on the procedure, which can sometimes take more time than the woman has.
· In the case of Savita Halappanavar, she died because of a septic miscarriage at the University Hospital of Galway at 17 weeks pregnant. The medical team made a decision to induce delivery but the miscarriage continued before they were able to. The sepsis continued and lead to her death soon after. A Coroner’s Inquest found that she died of medical misadventure. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed in 2013, largely as a result of her case.
· Roughly 3 women a day take the abortion pill.
· Leo Varadkar has spoken publicly about his belief in the ridiculousness of equating the life of the unborn, no matter the stage of gestation, to the life of the woman.
· On Amazon.co.uk, you can buy Repeal jumpers and t-shirts. They come in styles for both men and women and are described as ‘novelty’. You have to pay for postage to Ireland.
· The Catholic Church has been extremely vocal in its’ support of the No campaign, with Bishop Alan McGukian saying that to repeal the amendment would be “a seriously backward step.”
· Time Magazine wrote an article about the coming vote and described modern Ireland as being “an increasingly secular population.”
· At 12 weeks, you can hear the foetus’ heartbeat.
· Just as a woman can be jailed for having an abortion, a doctor can also be prosecuted for performing one.