Tomorrow shapes my little sister’s future, how could I not vote yes?

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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. 

 

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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. 

 

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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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