The life-changing act of Repealing the Eighth

A collage of photos of Kerry for Choice, Kerry Together for Yes and Corca Dhuibhne out canvassing during the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution in 2018.

I recently updated the Kerry for Choice website to include details on how to access abortion services and found myself close to tears, again. I keep thinking it has finally sunk in, then something happens and I realise that it will probably never feel real. But real it is. For all the faults with the legislation and there are many, people who need an abortion in Ireland can now phone a helpline run by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and be given details of their nearest abortion provider.

I’ve spoken before about how I haven’t always been pro-choice. For years I never really considered the issue at all, but when asked I struggled to explain how I felt. When Savita Halappanavar died I couldn’t stop thinking about it. With thinking came listening and the more I listened the more I realised the Eighth Amendment had to go. The more I listened the more pro-choice I became. I am for abortion on demand and without apologies. It’s time to take the phrase “abortion on demand” back from anti-abortion groups and return it to its original pro-choice meaning.

I knew I needed to pay the conversations that helped change my thinking forward by joining my local pro-choice group. Except there wasn’t one. Unsure what to do about that, P said “There are two of us and we have the internet. Let’s set up some social media accounts and organise a meeting.” We did and Kerry for Choice was born.

I was terrified no-one would turn up to our first meeting. Not because there weren’t pro-choice people in Kerry, but because activism is a minority sport. It’s much easier to sit back, let someone else do the work and simply vote on the relevant day. But people did turn up and they kept showing up.

We held meetings. Made plans. Wrote letters to newspapers. Protested. Spoke to people at information stalls. Wore badges. Sold badges. Held local actions. Striked for Repeal. Marched for Choice. Spoke to local, national and international media. Held public information events. We fundraised. We made banners and placards. We remained calm in the face of all the bullshit anti-choicers threw at us. Canvassed across the county. On May 25th the people of Kerry voted Yes to repealing the Eighth Amendment. We won Kilgarvan (Healy-Rae territory), that’s how much we won Kerry. I even cried on Radio Kerry, to prove it!

We still have so much work to do around safe access zones, ending rogue crisis pregnancy agencies, supporting Alliance for Choice as they fight for abortion rights in Northern Ireland and continuing to push for abortion services that are truly free, safe, legal and local because those of us from rural areas must have the same access to abortion care as people living in cities.

But look how far we’ve come. Look at all that we have achieved. It may never feel real, but we did it. The Eighth Amendment is gone. I’ve been involved with referendum and election campaigns before, I’ve been involved with political campaigns since and will be again but I know nothing will come close to being as life-changing.

A version of this article first appeared in my Wednesday Letters, a newsletter about feminism, activism and figuring out who I am. Sign up here.