Why one woman is flying home to vote in Ireland's abortion referendum

'Why one woman is flying home to vote in Ireland's abortion referendum

Thursday, May 24, 2018

On Friday, Ireland will vote in an historic referendum on whether to legalise abortion, and thousands of Irish people living in the UK are expected to travel back home to vote.

Dara Howley, 33, from Dublin, is currently living the UK with her husband, but she has already booked flights home to have her say in one of Ireland’s most divisive pieces of legislation.

“I am going to vote because it's probably the most important question that my country will ask,” she says.

“I don't live there at the moment. I’ve been in England for a while, and if I go home I want to go back to a country where I have full bodily autonomy whether pregnant or not.”

For years women have not been able to get an abortion in Ireland due to the Eighth Amendment in their constitution, which currently bans the procedure unless the life of the woman is endangered.

The maximum penalty for abortion in Ireland is 14 years in jail, and it's estimated that thousands of women travel to Englad for the procedure every year.

In 2016, 3,265 women gave Irish addresses to abortion providers in the UK.

"I thought no political party would touch this with a bargepole"

“The referendum was something you hoped you would see in the future. I really didn't believe that we'd actually get the opportunity and it had been so long since a previous referendum on this, and the issue was so divided. It seemed like like no political party in power would touch it with a bargepole because it was so divisive," says Howley.

The referendum has seen two sides formed, the Yes campaign, who want to see abortion legalised, and the No campaign, who want to see the amendment left the way it is.  

With over 350,000 Irish citizens currently living in the UK, Howley, like many others, will be flying home to have their voice heard.

“I'm going on Friday morning,” she added.

“I'm traveling from London with my husband and we're going to go home. We’ll be there in the early afternoon and are going from the airport straight to the polling station.

Dara Howley

"I'm afraid to talk to some family members"

“All of my family are still in Ireland. I'm afraid to talk to some family members because I would be so heartbroken and feel so betrayed if I knew they were voting no.

“It would feel like a personal betrayal because I am female and if I was living at home, as I hope to do in the future, and I was in distress having a crisis pregnancy this would be them basically saying to me ‘you have no rights here, we can decide what you're doing’.

Howley, who hasn't had an abortion herself, has been vocal on her stance.

“My immediate family knows all of that and I’m linked to most of my extended family members via social media,” she said.  

“I've been very vocal about it there, so everybody knows and if anyone's not engaging with me it’s probably because they don't want to argue, but I do know some people who have stopped talking to family members entirely.”

Ireland will go to polling stations on Friday to decide the fate of the Eighth Amendement.

A pro-choice mural in Dublin

"A baby is not fully-formed at 12 weeks"

Howley says that, for Irish women, publicly admitting to having had an abortion is still seen as shocking to some.

"There's a lot of abuse coming from the No side," she says. 

"If you're just walking down the street, you have a lot of No campaigners set up with posters with shocking images on them.

"I know someone who's had a plastic baby doll thrown at her head. It's it's pretty vicious."

She says that since the referendum was first mooted, more women have gone public with their own experiences.

"Since the public debates a lot of people have come out publicly to say ‘yes, I've had an abortion. It was my choice. It was what was best for me at the time’," she adds.

On what she'd discuss with a No voter if she had the chance, she says: "A baby is not fully formed at 12 weeks. You can't say that that is a viable life. It's not.

"It's not equal to the rights of the woman whose body it is inhabiting, that woman is a human being and it’s her body."