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By Minister Josepha Madigan

As a former family law solicitor I have seen first hand the devastation the current divorce laws cause for people, compounding their heartbreak at an enormously difficult time.

Nobody gets married thinking that one day they will have to legally detangle themselves from their husband or wife.

The shock of finding yourself in that position is difficult enough and I’ve watched as the realisation that it takes four years to even be able to begin the process of legally divorcing sinks in. It’s hard to watch because it just piles on more stress at a time when people need it least.

Not only does it add to the emotional distress and worry, it can also add to the cost for people.

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Very often, to try to regularise their affairs in some way while waiting to be allowed to divorce, couples enter into legal separation agreements or seek a judicial separation. This can double their legal costs.

Experts believe that the separation period can also be extremely difficult for the children of divorcing couples. Children need certainty and stability, and so reducing this period of legal limbo can only be positive for families.

On Friday we are being asked to remove the constitutional requirement that couples whose marriages have broken down completely be separated for four years out of the last five before beginning divorce proceedings. Instead, the Oireachtas will introduce a law reducing that required separation period to two years out of the last three.

Reducing the time period – sometimes referred to as the ‘pause period’ – is a compassionate response to people at a time when they are grieving the loss of their marriage and trying to move on from it in a way that is best for their families.

I’ve often said that a marriage breakdown requires a grieving process. There are a number of stages which separating couples need time and space to work through. That is why the Fine Gael led Government proposed a two year waiting period.

I think the people of Ireland will once again show compassion in a referendum but it’s important that we don’t get complacent about this vote: people need to get out and have their say to deliver this important change.

There hasn’t been as much discussion on radio and TV as in previous referendums and this is largely because with such little opposition, broadcasters are finding it hard to meet balance rules.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a pressing issue for many people and a yes vote will bring about a small change that will have a big impact.

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Today is the day folks. 

Irish people are taking to the polls, to vote on whether or not the archaic 8th amendment should be repealed. 

We have watched heartwarming videos of people returning home, we have listened to brave women share their stories, and we have shed a tear on occasion.

One thing that really struck me (and made me extremely emotional) is the attention the referendum is getting aboard – particularly among celebs.

There's something incredible about seeing people you admire taking to their social media to support a cause relevant to your future, and the future of all Irish women.

Here are just a few of the amazing celebrities who are supporting a change to the 8th amendment – because it's about bloody time! 

Niall Horan

P!NK

 

IRELAND: #repealthe8th #togetherforyes

A post shared by P!NK (@pink) on

Adwoaa Aboah

 

Standing in solidarity with my ladies in Ireland today and always. 

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Emma Watson

Lily Allen

Ian Madigan

Christy Turlington

 

#repealthe8th @dominowhisker #voteyes #listentowomen

A post shared by Christy Turlington Burns (@cturlington) on

Pixie Geldof

 

I stand with the women of Ireland, today and always #repealthe8th

A post shared by Pixie Geldof (@pixiegeldof) on

Alexa Chung

Courtney Cox

Boy George

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Abortion – to some, a dirty word, and to others, a medical tool that allows us to establish full autonomy over our bodies as women. 

As Ireland prepares to lay their heads to rest for the final time before voting in the referendum to repeal or maintain the 8th amendment to the constitution tomorrow, some will sleep soundly, assured of their vote either way. 

Others among us will have a restless night, still undecided on which box to apply that all-powerful X to come morning. Those who won't sleep at all are the individuals who have been impacted by the constraints of the amendment, as many wonder what judgement their own country will lay upon them in the ballot box. 

 

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In 1983, when the amendment was added, I didn't exist, and had no say on a constitutional restriction that affects me every day. My own mother was barely old enough to vote at the time of the previous referendum, but voted against it's installation in our constitution. At the time, the amendment was passed, and we were granted the restrictive laws we have today. 

A decade after she placed her vote in the ballot box supporting the rights of Irish women, she was lucky enough to have an uncomplicated pregnancy, unlike many women, and gave birth to me. 

Tomorrow, we will go to our polling station together, and I will see my mum cast her vote on this issue for the second time, a repeating of her personal history. Except this time, my ballot will go in the box after hers, and if the opinion polls are to be believed, she will finally see the result she longed for 35 years ago. 

She will cast her vote once again in the hope of a changed system for her daughters, her sisters, her friends, and anyone who could be impacted by the 8th. 

 

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In 2016, I heard the first whispers of the movement to repeal the 8th amendment. I had always been pro-choice from the moment I was capable of grasping the concept, after seeing teenage pregnancies in my secondary school, and having personally known girls to have struggled with the most secret, stigmatised pain of a crisis pregnancy in a Catholic secondary school. 

An acquaintance of my 15-year-old-self drunkenly confided in me one night, as we walked through the fields of our rural town, that she had experienced an unwanted pregnancy. 

When I asked her, in my idiotic, naive way of the time, why she didn't look pregnant, she broke down, dropping to the grass of the street lamp-lit field, and told me that she had induced a miscarriage. I will not go into the details here out of respect for her privacy. I felt appalled at the time, not because of her actions of desperation, but because I realised in that moment that we existed in a suspended reality of outdated 'morals' and laws. 

Women who engage in sexual activity are punished with an ultimatum. Keep your 'mistake' or be banished to another country where they will deal 'with the likes of you,' a phrase that was used against my acquaintance by her student guidance counsellor when she brought her crisis to him.  

 

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As a teenager, who was less abashed than my friends, I would buy condoms and, in dangerous moments, pregnancy tests for others, who simply could not walk up to the Boots counter with those 'shameful' products in their hands. Some of my friends couldn't bear to buy them themselves, just from sheer embarrassment, or fear that someone they knew would see them and judge them. I would stroll in, my friend's crumpled €10 notes in my hands and secure the goods on their behalf.

When I got to college, my practice was put to good use when it was my own loose change I handed over the counter, knees knocking together, as I requested a test in the pharmacy.

The test was taken with shaky hands in the secrecy of a college dorm bathroom. Ragged breathing slowed as the second line on the test failed to appear and I knew I wasn't pregnant, but the entire time I thought I might be, all I could think over and over was 'I cannot afford to travel.' 

I laughed the very next day when my late period arrived, and my housemate and I celebrated with a 'you're not pregnant' party – because at the time there would have been no other option that was right for me but to have an abortion. Others have made a different choice, children themselves, and not regretted it, but that would not have been my choice. 

However, the struggles I would have dealt with to secure that medical option would have been unimaginable. 

 

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Ireland has a historically complex relationship with the impurity or sex and the anticipated chastity of 'good Catholic women.' 

Even in a recent Garda rape investigation, the case was described as a  'terrible rape on a decent girl.' What does this casual turn of phrase mean exactly? What does a 'decent girl' entail? A pure woman? A woman who could never be perceived as 'asking for it?' Would the terminology and empathy level be different if she wasn't seen as a 'decent' girl? 

Ireland is one of the few countries in the world where Catholic guilt is still deeply rooted, but like a festering rot, it manifests itself in the worst ways.

There are few No arguments that do not rely heavily on 'morals,' and a quick Google will leave you with evidence of religious associations on that side of the campaign. From mass goers being told they will no longer be welcome in the congregation if they vote Yes, to statues of Mary being carted around during Save the 8th marches, the societal connection of church and state is clear. 

 

A post shared by Together for Yes (@together4yes) on

But the fact of the matter is, sex happens. Abortion happens, in this country and in clinics abroad who are now so accustomed to seeing Irish addresses on the appointment system they don't bat an eyelid. 

Abortion is a reality, but our country chooses to sweep it under the rug. All this scaremongering about 'floodgates opening' and '55 million babies being killed' is complete fallacy. When the morning after pill was introduced, pharmacies weren't seeing queues of hundreds banging down their doors the next morning looking for their pills. 

Women will not be using abortion as 'contraception' or normalising or minimising the seriousness of these medical tools. We won't be knocking back abortion pills over brunch with the gals thinking it's gas. Trust us. 

'We have moved on from dropping pregnant women at the laundries, and as a society we need to move on from dropping them at the departure gates, too,' said Gerry Edwards, at the launch of the Together for Yes campaign, and I could not agree more.  

Not only do these laws and social stigmas seek to belittle the bodily autonomy of women, but in doing so force women who are carrying complicated pregnancies, ones which could end in their own deaths or will definitely end in the deaths of their unborn, to continue to term – so long as there is a heartbeat. Yes, we now have the amendment that allows for legal abortion in cases of direct negative impact on the health of the mother, but we have all heard the stories from real women and couples about the lack of compassion and appalling medical conditions they are faced with still. If I can't convince you of this, the In Her Shoes Facebook page certainly will. 

 

A post shared by Sarah Magliocco (@sarahmagliocco) on

I have marched. I have tweeted. I have used my words to express my thoughts. I have donated. I have rallied. I have canvassed. I have volunteered. I have changed the minds of some no voters and been screamed at by others. 

When I look at the faces of my little sisters, who are too young to have their say, I hope for a safer future for them and their children.

When I accompany my mum to the polling station, I stand behind her in 2018 and in 1983. 

Tomorrow, I will vote Yes to repeal the 8th amendment because I believe in choice. For me, for the women who came before me, and the women who come after me.

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Cillian Murphy has been an active advocate for a 'Yes' vote in the upcoming abortion referendum, lending his voice to various campaigns supporting the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. 

And now, the Peaky Blinders star has given one final salute to the Yes side in the form of a delicious chocolate cake. 

As a way of thanking campaigners for all their hard work, Cillian sent the good folk over at Together for Yes a well-deserved treat. 

A tweet on the Together for Yes Twitter page read: ''Cillian Murphy sent us in cake! Fantastic to have support from men around the country to will stand with us and vote YES on Friday May 25th''.

The cake was accompanied by a hand-written note signed by the man himself.  

 ''Thank you all so much for your hard work on the Yes campaign," it read. 

''Together for change, for equality, for love. Together for Yes! Best wishes, Cillian Murphy''.

What an absolute gent! 

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Leo Varadkar has been vocal in his support for repealing the 8th amendment in recant months. 

The Taoiseach uploaded a video to his Facebook page outlining ehy he will be voting Yes this Friday, and encouraging others to do the same. 

'When the 8th Amendment was put into our constitution back in  1983, that's 35 years ago, people believed that it would prevent abortion – but of course, it hasn't'

'It's just forced nearly 200,000 women to go overseas to end their pregnancies. We now have a lot of women, in fact two or three every day, who import abortion pills illegally over the internet, and end their pregnancies in their own home.'

'My views on abortion and on this difficult topic have changed over time.'

'Particularly during my time as Minister for Health, I became aware on occasion of some really tragic and really difficult cases.'

'Some people are worried that if they vote Yes, abortion will become too readily available in Ireland, that the new system will be too liberal – I want to assure you that that's not the plan.' 

Highlighting the logistics of a Yes majority vote, Varadkar noted that there will be a 72 hour waiting period for women seeking abortion.

'In the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, it will be the woman's decision as to whether she wants to go ahead with the pregnancy or not, and her doctor will be able to give her advice on alternative options or counselling.'

He went on to assure the public that after 12 weeks, there will only be access to abortion when the mother's life or health is at risk, or where the baby will not survive after birth, which must be confirmed by two separate specialist doctors.

'If you're still undecided, I'd ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a woman facing a crisis pregnancy. Perhaps she has been raped and doesn't feel that she can continue through with the pregnancy. Perhaps she's a child herself. If you vote No, nothing can change, and things will persist as they are now where women have to travel abroad to get the care that they need.'

Varadkar went on to highlight that he will be voting Yes opn May 25th for a more compassionate Ireland, 'one in which we don't sweep our problems under the carpet anymore.'

 

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