Why I'm Flying Home to Vote in the Irish Abortion Referendum

"The measure of any society is how well it treats its women, and frankly, Ireland is not looking too good in this respect."

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May 23 2018, 2:10pm

Lianne Hickey / Maja Topcagic via Stocksy

This week, Ireland votes on whether it will repeal the Eighth Amendment, which denies women the right to an abortion in all circumstances except in cases where her life is in danger. In the run-up to this historic vote, Broadly will be giving a platform to the victims of this inhumane law and the activists fighting for change. You can follow our coverage ahead of Friday's vote here.

Tomorrow, 26-year-old Cork native Lianne Hickey will be flying home to vote in the referendum, alongside thousands of Irish citizens also currently living abroad. Activists believe that these returning emigres will have an enormous impact on the overall outcome of the vote. Read Lianne's account of why she's flying home to vote here, and follow her tomorrow on Broadly's Instagram Stories to track her footsteps on a momentous day for Irish reproductive rights.

I've been living in London for the last seven months, but I'm flying back home to Cork tomorrow because I want to vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment. Why? Because I trust women to decide what happens to their own bodies, and I trust doctors to make evidence-based health decisions. It appals me that, under the Eighth Amendment, both women and doctors can be criminalized for doing just that.

I'll be wearing a Repeal T-shirt in support of the Repeal the Eighth campaign, and tying a "Healthcare Not Airfare" tag to my luggage when I fly home. For me, flying home to vote is a tangible way I can show the women and girls of Ireland that I actually care about their welfare.

As a young Irish woman, the Eighth Amendment has the capacity to completely change my life. But this is the first time I've actually had a chance to have my say on the issue. I want to seize this opportunity to support women's access to reproductive healthcare. I've had enough of sweeping it under the carpet. The reality is that around 170,000 women and girls have traveled to the UK from Ireland for an abortion since the Eighth Amendment was introduced in 1983. We can’t continue to pretend abortion isn’t happening. This referendum is about allowing women to safely and legally access the healthcare services that they are already actively seeking.

The measure of any society is how well it treats its women, and frankly, Ireland is not looking too good in this respect. There is no doubt in my mind that the Eighth Amendment doesn't keep women safe. I spent last year living in Galway, where Savita Halappanavar died in 2012 after she was refused an abortion that could have saved her life. When I lived there, I often thought about Savita’s family, and her entirely avoidable death.


Watch: The Unstoppable Wendy Davis on the Fight for Abortion Rights

As an Irish woman living abroad, I'm always proud to tell people I'm from Ireland. But this is also tinged with the shame of having to explain that, in 2018, women in my country can face a prison sentence of up to 14 years, simply for ending an unwanted pregnancy. I honestly believe that in years to come, we'll look back at the Eighth Amendment and be amazed.

Irish women have to endure the humiliation of borrowing money from friends to book a flight to the UK, and, if they're lucky and can afford it, a dingy hotel. They have to lie to their bosses, teachers, and parents, before preparing to make a lonely journey to a strange city—all the while dealing with the enormity of the experience of ending a crisis pregnancy. And women who can't afford to travel and miss work are forced to illegally purchase abortion pills online. What options are available for Irish women dealing with unplanned pregnancies today? Shame, stress, financial hardship, medically unsupervised treatment, or death. We deserve better.

In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. I remember vividly the incredible feeling of love I felt at the time when watching my homeland display progressive values. Just like then, tomorrow's vote is about compassion and respect. It represents another opportunity for us to take a step forward, in the right direction. It's about sending a message to the world that Irish people, wherever they are, want a safer, fairer Ireland for all.

This is why I'm flying home to vote tomorrow. I urge every voter, man and woman—whether they morally agree with abortion or not—to give each woman the choice to make the choice that is right for them. In flying home, I want to lead by example, and encourage others to make a stand, and vote with me, for a fairer Ireland for all.

Lianne will be taking over Broadly's Instagram stories tomorrow, May 25, as Ireland heads to the polls. Join her at @broadly.

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