In September 1983 Irish citizens voted to recognise the right to life of the unborn as equal to that of the mother. One month later, on October 7th, it was signed into law under the now infamous Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. If, however, there is one thing by which all things in this universe are governed, it is the law of change- and Friday the 25th of May 2018 seen the Eighth Amendment fall victim to this very piece of universal legislation. After years of campaigning, protesting and lobbying on both sides, the Repeal campaign succeeded in its attempts to finally give the women of this country what they deserve; control over their own bodies. Now, as we begin the transition towards becoming a country where a woman can legally obtain an abortion, we must ask ourselves what exactly does the future of Ireland look like? And what, if anything, is going to change?
The first thing we need to come to terms with is that, regardless of the way in which the media or either side of the debate may have framed it, this referendum was neither a matter of stopping nor of encouraging abortions. Though some voters allowed their moral compass to guide their vote, the reality is that abortions were already a daily occurrence in this country. Figures show that at least nine women and girls a day travelled from Ireland to the U.K in order to legally obtain an abortion, while many others were reduced to illegally obtaining pills online in order to terminate their pregnancy. Hence, to think that this vote has opened up the floodgates for a newborn wave of abortion-fever to sweep the country is naive at best. Abortion has long been a part of daily Irish life for many women and families, and all this vote has done is allowed us to show such women and families that, from now on, instead of pushing them into boats or planes, Ireland will use its power only to pull them closer.
Nevertheless, not all citizens are as optimistic about the future as the rest of us are. Some have voiced their concern that Ireland will face a fall in population in future generations as a result of the legalisation of abortion, while the worrisome “will abortion used be used as a means of contraception?” question continues to lurk in the minds of those who voted against it for that very reason. Indeed both of these things are possible, however slim the possibilities may be. Nevertheless, there’s also the risk that should abortion have remained illegal and criminal, someone you know- a sister, partner, mother, daughter or friend- would have suffered tragically because of it, and I for one will sleep a lot easier at night knowing that if ever it came to it, the women that I know and love in this country have the choice available to them legally and safely at home, regardless of whether they decide to use it or not.
However, for what good came out of this referendum, we must acknowledge that it brought with it some bad. For many of us who grew up with smartphones and social media accounts, this was our first time engaging in and being exposed to the ugly side of political debates both within the confines of our screen and outside of it. From name-calling and online trolling to spitting on opposing canvassers and destroying material that conflicted with one’s own beliefs, the divisions that arose gave us an insight just how ugly things can get when there’s a mutual unwillingness to understand views contrary to our own. Perhaps access to abortion is a move towards a better Ireland for all, but the lies, aggression, manipulation and ignorance shown from a minority within both sides of the campaign gave us a glimpse of an Ireland that is perhaps more backwards than we like to think.
Have we progressed as a country? Has equality become more than just a social ideal and political buzzword? Have we done right by our women? Only time will tell. No great change happens overnight. Let us not become so caught up in the ecstasy of improvement that we leave ourselves destined for disillusionment. Voting to Repeal opened a door that has been shut for too long for the women of this country, but opening it was just the beginning. Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw described democracy as “a device that ensures we will be governed no better than we deserve”, and whatever the impact and consequences of this decision may be, let us take comfort in one of the only things that democracy guarantees to us- the opportunity to decide our own fate.
Thus, as the dust settles in polling stations, the Referendum talk dwindles down, the posters and leaflets begin to erode in the inevitable Irish Summer rain, and the uncertainty that follows any momentous occasion begins to creep in, let us remind ourselves that one thing is certain; in a world that moves as quickly as our own, the only way to eliminate the possibility of moving forward is by being so fearful of change that you forget to move at all. Together we have made Ireland move, now let us ensure that we continue to move in the right direction.