I’m voting yes to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
This is referendum is not an abortion referendum. This referendum is about women’s bodies. Women’s bodies, and how we feel about them, are the central focus of this referendum. Modern Ireland has been built on bones. There’s a darkness in the Irish psyche. We see it in the way we drink – not lightly, for refreshment, but steadily and with intent. It’s in the way we bear grudges, our long memories. We know danger, we understand secrets – we have generations of experience of holding our tongues.
The secrets are being told now, though. This referendum is about the voices that echo down through our history, that started whispering of the hidden horrors in our institutions. These voices are now a deafening roar. Our throats are raw from shouting. Modern Ireland has been born, and we will never be silent again.
When I cast my yes vote, I’ll be thinking of women’s bodies. I’ll be thinking of every woman who sits shoulder to travel-weary shoulder with other women in the waiting room of an abortion clinic in the UK, a travel suitcase tucked under her seat. I’ll be thinking of the sock marks scored into the calves of the woman who lies unclothed under a paper blanket as she waits for her procedure, knowing that she’ll have to sit and bleed alone for the whole plane ride home.
I’ll be thinking of the legacy of the calloused fingers and creaking backs of the pregnant women who slaved in the wet heat of the laundries, of their leaking breasts and empty arms when their newborn babies were taken from them and sold.
This referendum is about the taut belly of the woman carrying a baby with fatal foetal abnormalities, knowing her child can never survive but having to suffer through jocular comments from strangers about due dates, because she cannot be treated and supported in her own country.
It’s about every pelvis that was cracked and unhinged during a symphysiotomy, every gush of waters that were broken without a woman’s foreknowledge or consent.
This referendum is about the sweat and exhaustion of the legions of women who have spent the last few months campaigning for repeal– wiping spittle from their faces, wiping tears from their eyes, rubbing their blistered feet.
When I vote yes, I will be thinking of everyone who believes a woman deserves to be treated with dignity and respect during her pregnancy. I will be thinking of everyone who believes that mental health is real health. I will be thinking of every woman who has suffered, or died, as a result of the Eighth Amendment. I will be thinking of the women who live here, and who are at the mercy of the Eighth Amendment, but who don’t have a vote in this country. I will be thinking of everyone who has campaigned, told their stories, leafleted, worn a badge or a sweater to show their support for Repeal. I will be thinking of every person who has stayed at home and remained quiet, but is now going to the polling station with a determination to cast a yes vote.
My hands are ready, my heart is ready. I will be walking to the polling station with my three daughters. As an Irish woman, I hold in my DNA the sinew and gristle of all the women who went before me, who suffered the oppression and contempt of a Church and State that did not place any value on women’s bodies. My daughters, all of our daughters, are immeasurably precious. I have to believe that we, as a nation, will prove that we know their worth.