London Irish abortion activists seek change in NI ban after Yes result
Abortions illegal in North unless woman’s life at risk or there is major risk to her health
The London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign said the decisive Yes vote in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment means there is a strong mandate to continue campaigning for change north of the Border in Ireland. File photograph: Getty Images
British-based Irish abortion rights activists have said they will immediately transfer their focus to changing the law in Northern Ireland in an attempt to continue the momentum achieved during the vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, which has some 2,000 members, said the decisive Yes vote meant there is a strong mandate to continue campaigning for change north of the Border.
The 1967 Abortion Act, which allowed for abortion in Great Britain, did not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion remains illegal there unless a woman’s life is at risk or there is a risk to her mental or physical health that is long-term or permanent.
“Of course we are happy, but we are campaigning for rights across the island of Ireland – so the women of Northern Ireland are very much in our thoughts, said Claire McGowran of the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign.
“There are many Northern Irish women in our campaign who have worked with us over the last two years and they need to be applauded today for having had the patience to campaign with us, and now it our turn to start campaigning with them.”
Many of the London-based campaigners returned to Ireland in the days before the vote and watched the results come in at the Intercontinental hotel in Ballsbridge. The campaign initiated the push to get eligible citizens home to Ireland to vote in Friday’s referendum, and videos of Irish people returning through Dublin Airport in a festival atmosphere were circulated widely.
There was a standing ovation for Mara Clarke, founder of the Abortion Support Network (ASN), when she arrived at the hotel. The London-based organisation provides advice and help to women in Ireland on how to travel to the UK to get terminations. Clarke, an American national, has been a prominent campaigner for the rights of Irish women for a number of years.
Emotional after the No side had conceded defeat, she said thousands of women will now be able to get the medical care that they need in Ireland instead of having to travel.
“I am crying for any woman that has ever called us for help, and also while this result is tremendous, is beyond expectation, and is exceptional, I have clients and I hope that they feel the love and support of the majority of people who voted Yes,” she said. “The people of Ireland who finally decided that enough is enough – they have just told every woman who has the ability to get pregnant on this island that they matter.”
For the immediate future, the operations of the ASN will continue as normal, she said. There will still be women who seek terminations after the 12-week limit proposed in Ireland, she added, who will then travel to the UK for them.
“The thing is that in the short-term, nothing has changed. We are going to be launching a fundraising [drive] because we stopped proactively fundraising in January to encourage people to support the campaign,” she said.
“In the longer term, we would still expect 600 to 700 women to need to travel because they fall outside of the 12 weeks. That means thousands of women will be able to get care at home and that means so much. It means so much to so many people.”
The large number of people who travelled from abroad to vote, many of whom documented their journey on social media, were credited with raising the issue with an international audience. Figures as to how many travelled are vague, apart from estimations from the London Irish Abortion Rights campaign numbering in the thousands.
Ms McGowran said the campaign did not anticipate the number of people who did travel. Even with such a gap in the vote between the two sides, she said that those who returned performed an important role. “I don’t think those votes were in vain, I think those votes were hugely important – the visual alone was really important,” she said.
Hannah Little, one of the co-founders of the campaign, said a number of the mostly young Irish people who attended their meetings in London in the 18 months since the group was founded viewed the outcome of the referendum as a deciding point in whether to return to Ireland or not in the future.
“For a vast majority of members, the outcome was dependent on whether they saw this as a place they wanted to return to settle down or have children. To have a positive result is hugely exciting and something we are really relishing,” she said.