Calling on students in the North to travel home to vote Yes to repeal the 8th Amendment

Rachel Watters

 

In two days’ time, voters across the Republic of Ireland will go to the polls to cast their ballots in the referendum on repeal of the 8th Amendment. This is a generation-defining referendum and polls say the result will be tight. As NUS-USI Women’s Officer elect, I want to urge all students studying in Northern Ireland who have a vote in the referendum to travel home to vote Yes. NUS-USI holds a position in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland and in solidarity with USI calling for repeal of the 8th Amendment in the Republic of Ireland.

 

Both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Joint Oireachtas Committee concluded that the only way to stop the harm being done to women and pregnant people in the Republic of Ireland under the 8th Amendment is to repeal it from the Irish Constitution and to allow the Oireachtas to legislate. This will require a majority to vote Yes on Friday: we need you to be part of that Yes.

 

You might ask why I’m so passionate in calling for a Yes vote when I don’t have a vote in this referendum. My answer to that question would be that at least 10 people a day up and down this island are forced by cruel laws in two jurisdictions to either travel to access abortion or to procure their own abortions with pills bought online: the status quo is a violation of human rights and we cannot allow it to continue.

 

Repealing the 8th Amendment is a student issue because being denied the right to informed consent during pregnancy, having to travel for an abortion or risking prosecution by self-inducing an abortion will directly impact students’ welfare, finances and their academic lives. The Facebook page ‘In Her Shoes’ has published several anonymous stories from people impacted by the 8th Amendment while they were in college or university. We know that there are thousands more Irish students with similar stories which go untold. We want to ensure that they can receive the care and compassion at home which the 8th Amendment prevents.

 

The student movement has fought for reproductive rights across the island of Ireland since the 1970s, including the right to access contraception. In the late 80s and early 90s, Maxine Brady (former NUS-USI Convenor and later, President of USI) and a number of other Irish sabbatical officers fiercely defended the right to information on abortion. SPUC (the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) sued the officers to prevent them providing information on abortion to the hundreds of women who requested it each year, but the officers remained firm in their commitment to defending the right to choose at great personal cost.

 

Our movement has long recognised that a constitution is not the place to regulate abortion. It is simply too blunt an instrument to address the complexities of pregnancy, birth and the personal circumstances of people who become pregnant. The 8th Amendment has not prevented Irish people from having abortions, it has simply caused great and unnecessary suffering in an effort to maintain the pretence that abortions do not happen in Ireland. This referendum presents the opportunity to end the cruelty and hypocrisy of the 8th Amendment and allow the Oireachtas to legislate in a way that respects the choice and the needs of the pregnant individual. We cannot afford to pass up this hard-won opportunity for change after 35 years.

 

In preparation for the referendum, NUS-USI has worked with NUS UK, NUS Scotland, NUS Wales and USI to set up the #HomeToV8te campaign to encourage Irish students in UK institutions to return home to vote this Friday. We are very pleased that a number of students’ unions have set up their own travel bursaries, matched by NUS UK, to assist students in their journey to vote. These bursaries have been made available to students because students’ unions recognise that it is crucial to empower students to exercise their democratic right, particularly in a referendum of such importance.

 

To further assist students to travel home to vote, USI has launched the #VoterMotor campaign which allows students to pledge to drive others home to vote on May 25th. You can pledge a lift and see which lifts are already available HERE.

 

Every single vote counts in this referendum. The margin between Yes and No in the 1995 divorce referendum result was less than 1%, approximately one vote for every ballot box in the country. Please don’t assume that the referendum will pass without you casting your vote. Don’t let this opportunity to make Ireland a fairer place slip by: the people harmed by the 8th Amendment cannot wait another week, never mind another 35 years. For a more compassionate and progressive Ireland, you must go and vote Yes to repeal the 8th Amendment.

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