Looking Back on REPEAL, One Year On

Together For Yes says it will continue to campaign on Ireland’s abortion legislation one year on.

Saturday, 25 May will mark a year on from the decisive result to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

"Just a year ago we repealed the Eighth thanks to brilliant campaigners and supporters all over the country and to the people of Ireland for their brave and compassionate vote," were veteran activist Ailbhe Smyth's words in a post commemorating the first anniversary of the referendum vote in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.

"It means so much."

The referendum paved the way for a rollout of services from 1 January, 36 years after the introduction of a constitutional ban on termination of pregnancies was introduced.

Terminations are now legal in Ireland for all women, up to 12 weeks’ gestation. Beyond that, abortion is legal only in cases where the woman’s life or health is at risk, or doctors have diagnosed a fatal foetal abnormality.

Waiting periods

For abortions up to 12 weeks, the government included a requirement for women to wait three days between requesting a termination accessing one. This, the Dublin Well Woman Centre (DWWC) says, has been barring the right to early medical abortions (EMAs). 

"Since January, we have been providing a non-judgmental, caring and supportive medical services to those seeking our help during a crisis pregnancy – but it hasn’t been without complications," says DWWC Chief Executive Alison Begas.

“We have been dismayed by the lack of urgency regarding the introduction of exclusion zones – safe zones for people accessing abortion services at GP offices or hospitals – which should have been implemented in tandem with the legislation.

"We need to see the provision of an effective programme of free contraception – including Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) – and we won’t stop pushing for progressive change until all those experiencing a crisis pregnancy can feel safe accessing a service that doesn’t impose unnecessary delays.”

Lack of understanding

Twelve months on from the country's vote and almost six months on from the 1 January implementation, the most common comment iterated of the services is that of a general lack of understanding. Especially, but not solely, when it comes to members of the opposite sex.

Pregnancy is dated from the start of the last menstrual period, while conception usually takes place about two weeks after.

This means that those in a crisis pregnancy are often further along than they had anticipated when they start researching services.

In such circumstances, the three-day waiting period can be the difference between receiving healthcare at home or having to travel. 

Speaking at an event on Thursday marking the one-year anniversary, Smyth confirmed that, since January, a "significant reduction" of Irish women have travelled overseas to obtain termination services. 

“In the five months since abortion services were introduced in Ireland, we are hearing anecdotally that there has been a significant reduction in the number of women contacting UK-based abortion support services,” she said.

“This is evidence of the very real impact the repeal vote is having on Irish women. The most significant impact of the vote has been on the everyday lives of women. Now, anyone who needs an abortion in Ireland is legally entitled to one.

She said last year’s “momentous result means there will be no more boats, no more flights, and no more hiding in shame”.

Women's representation

A positive byproduct of the jarring savagery of the campaign is the galvanisation of women to become politically activated.

Female representation is at an all-time high for both local elections and the European Parliament elections this year – something that's being considered a ripple effect from the repeal campaign. 

One such woman is Rita Harrold who is running for European Election. Rita – an active member of ROSA – organised actions with abortion pills which were commented by many as crucial in achieving of 12 weeks on request. 

#NowforNI

Abortion is legal under certain circumstances in England and Wales and Scotland based on the Abortion Act 1967, then one of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe when it was enacted.

However, this act does not cover Northern Ireland where women are only permitted a termination if their life is at risk or there is a serious risk to their mental health.

This law bans abortion in almost all circumstances, including rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. It provides for severe penalties including life imprisonment.

Amnesty International has worked tirelessly to bring Northern Ireland up to speed with the Republic since May's vote but external complications – such as a lack of government – have let them down.  

“After Ireland’s vote there was so much hope that the UK Government would then act to change things in the North, but a year later we’re still waiting," Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said.

 “These projections shine a spotlight on the unjustifiable neglect of people in Northern Ireland.

“Whilst dangerous roll-backs on reproductive rights are happening across US states, we must remember that our own Government is forcing its own citizens to live with these cruel laws.

“It’s time for the Government to end the harm and hurt caused by our inhumane and discriminatory near-total abortion ban.”

As a result, ‘Now For Northern Ireland’ projections have been lit up on buildings across London, Belfast, Dublin, and Glasgow last night to shine a spotlight on the injustice of the Victorian legislation. 

“Though the Irish Yes vote was a huge victory, there is still so much more to do here and around the world," Sorcha Tunney, Amnesty International Ireland’s It’s Time campaign coordinator, said.

"Changing the Irish constitution required a referendum but human rights shouldn’t come down to a vote. Northern Ireland is an example of where a government should take action for women’s rights but haven’t. We say very clearly today - the North is next.”

Anyone experiencing a crisis pregnancy can contact the HSE My Options freephone line on 1800 828 010 or any of the DWWC clinics.

READ MORE: Sinéad Burke Creates the World's First Little Person Mannequins

READ MORE: Northern Ireland's Abortion Laws are Actually Stricter than Alabama's

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