Yes vote will bring about an Ireland that cares better for women
Annie Hoey: Students want an Ireland that protects women by providing safe, regulated abortion care in line with best medical practice
Annie Hoey is Canvassing Co-ordinator with Together For Yes and a former president of the USI.
In November 2012, the reality of abortion finally hit home with me. I was a student in University College Cork and the news of Savita Halappanavar’s death spread like wildfire across campus.
Ireland was incensed at the senseless death of this young woman and I could not believe that I had been so implicit in my passive understanding of the Eighth Amendment’s impact on the lives of women.
Up until this point, I always thought about abortion in the abstract. I knew it was illegal in Ireland and I knew women travelled in their thousands to the UK and elsewhere to access services. I knew women (friends, and fellow students) who illegally took abortion pills, and the faces these women had when telling me about the shame of feeling like a criminal will always stay with me. Suddenly, the Eighth Amendment had a face. As I attended marches and vigils, I saw Savita’s face again and again. I could no longer think about abortion as a philosophical concept to be won or lost at a college debating event; it was now about women and their lives, health and choices.
Fast forward six years, and Ireland is on the cusp of a referendum on the Eighth Amendment. In the intervening six years, we have seen students across the country get active and mobilise on this issue. There is massive pressure on the Government to commit to a May 25th referendum so that students can participate in this historic vote. In November last year, 18,000 students were added to the Register of Electors for the first time. There is a palpable energy across our campuses on this issue, and it shows no sign of relenting ahead of polling day.
It would of course be unwise to suggest that all students will vote the same way- students are not a homogenous group, and are made up of diverse backgrounds and opinions. It is fair to say, however, that students are not taking this vote lightly. Students are taking into consideration the fact that abortion is already a reality here in Ireland. It affects students just like any other population grouping in Ireland. Approximately a quarter of women who give an Irish address when accessing abortion healthcare in the U.K. are aged between 18-25, many of whom are students.
When I presented to the Citizen’s Assembly last year on behalf of the Union of Students in Ireland, I was inundated with messages from students thanking me for giving them a voice.
I spoke for the countless students who made this difficult decision alone and without the support of their doctor or family. We know that the decision to continue or end a pregnancy is a personal and private decision that should be made between a woman and her doctor. I spoke for the students who illegally imported abortion pills online, and who still this day live in fear that they will be prosecuted for this criminal action. These students made difficult decisions, often alone and without support. The resounding response I got was the acknowledgement that we can and should , and that we should not be shipping our healthcare across the sea.
When students go to the polls in May, they will think of all the women affected by the Eighth Amendment. They will think about their classmates who borrowed money and were forced to travel in shame. They will think of the much-wanted pregnancies that ended in tragedy in a hospital outside of Ireland.
Students want an Ireland that does better for women. An Ireland that supports and cares for women in their time of need. An Ireland that protects women by providing safe, regulated abortion care in line with best medical practice. An Ireland which understands that sometimes a private matter needs public support.
Annie Hoey is Canvassing Co-ordinator with Together For Yes and a former president of the USI