17th May 2018 Helen 2Comment

Saturday the 26th of May 2018. What kind of day will it be?

While everyone is concentrating on the 25th – the day we vote to repeal (or not) the 8th Amendment (that infamous provision that affords absolute protection of life to the unborn – regardless of viability, the pregnant woman’s wishes, or a threat to her health), my mind wanders to the day after.  The day the results will be announced. The day we prove what kind of people we are.

My nearest touchstone is the day after the Marriage Equality Referendum three years ago. We were mid-house renovation and I was attempting to entertain three small kids among packing boxes and stacked furniture in a rental house with impossibly white carpets. A stressful scene on any day.

In the background RTÉ played on the telly. First there were the tallies, then hours of commentary and then the results.  The sun shone. While the counts dragged on, I took the kids to the park, earphone on one ear desperately listening to the news as they played. I kept crying. The results became clearer, and individual counties were called. Yes. Yes. Yes. Kilmainham shone in the sunshine. Not a dry eye in the place. I kept hugging the kids. For their part they kept laughing and telling me ‘Don’t be so silly Mama. People can already marry the person they love’. How proud I was to tell them they had been right all along.

This vote is different as we are tackling the thorniest of issues – namely to what extent we, as a people, think a woman has the right to decide on her access to healthcare in pregnancy – including her right to end a pregnancy.

To bring about this change people have addressed rooms of strangers; written the hardest words; spoken to families and friends, about their darkest, loneliest and toughest times.  They have shared with other people the sad realities of ending a pregnancy and the difficulties of doing so abroad. They have talked about the sheer grief of ending a wanted but unviable pregnancy, and the relief of ending an unwanted one.  They have opened their lives up for scrutiny to share these stories – and faced the judgement of others.  They have laid themselves bare.

Doctors have spoken at great length about the provisions they need to care for their patients and the fact that women have died because of the 8th amendment. They are telling us the law needs to change to stop another woman dying from a festering infection after a missed miscarriage, or while waiting for a foetus to reach viability before resuming life saving treatment.

Politicians and lawyers have talked how a ‘No’ vote can do absolutely nothing to change the well established pattern of Irish women buying illegal pills on the internet to induce abortions without any medical supervision whatsoever, while significantly more women travel to the UK for terminations. They are clearly telling that it is utterly impossible to make Ireland abortion-free and all we will achieve if we convince ourselves otherwise is to continue to punish women for the crime of a crisis pregnancy.

I have no idea what sort of day Saturday the 26th of May 2018 will be.

I know, that either way it will be filled with tears. They will be tears of relief tinged with sadness that it took 35 years and so many terrible tragedies for us to undo this wrong; or tears of complete heartbreak from the women and families who came out of the shadows to tell their stories, and were told to retreat back there, in shame.

Saturday the 26th of May 2018. What kind of day will it be? You decide.

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