Thursday 23 May 2019

It's not about celebrating abortion: we're celebrating women

This was a very Irish referendum - because generations talked to each other

Women dressed as an angels celebrate at Dublin Castle: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Women dressed as an angels celebrate at Dublin Castle: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ciara O'Connor

For a long time, I thought that this would not be a time for celebration - relief, perhaps, or a grim comfort. I said with some certainty that there wouldn't be parties in the street.

I got it wrong. What I understand now, which I didn't understand a year ago, is that it's not abortion that's being celebrated - it's women. It's trusting and respecting them. It's treating them like autonomous adults.

It's Ireland wrapping its arms around all those who've made that lonely, frightened trip to England and saying: ''We're sorry. You are loved.''

It's the forging of a new, compassionate and equal Ireland, one that we've been building since bringing in contraception, then divorce, then marriage equality, then gender recognition. It's the ability of a grassroots people's movement to smash hundreds of years of the Church and the patriarchy. It's the knowledge that things can and will change - that we have power.

This was a very Irish referendum. Brexit floundered when it turned out that the young, pro-Europe generation in the UK hadn't thought to talk to their Eurosceptic grandparents - so confident they were in their little internet echo chambers of a ''remain'' vote. In Ireland, we are proud of our intergenerational relationships; we talk to each other. And we did.

Many of us learnt that our grandparents were not as sheltered as we thought. Many didn't need persuading, they'd known for a long time about the danger, the cruelty, of a Church-run state. They'd seen it.

The videos of hundreds of people walking into arrivals halls across the country, coming home to vote, wearing their repeal T-shirts and welcomed by repeal activists, sent unexpected shivers up my spine.

It was a joyful homecoming, a mirror to the desperate and ashamed women who have walked through departures in silence, to seek healthcare abroad. In this referendum, we understood the meaning of diaspora. People offered to pay for strangers' flights, to give them lifts from the airport; we understood the meaning of ''home''.


How Did Your Constituency Vote?

Final Results Constituencies declared: 40/40

Map Key

Yes 55% 50% 55% No

Above all, this referendum showed the power of storytelling - that most Irish of traditions. It was language, words, stories that won it in the end. First one, then two, then more, and more, and more, emboldened by their sisters; thousands of Irish women of all ages and backgrounds told their stories.

We learnt about effects of the Eighth that we couldn't have imagined - women bleeding in Irish hospital beds, waiting for their babies to die inside them, slowly, painfully, terrifyingly waiting for the inevitable and miscarrying into bedpans. There were uplifting stories too, stories from women who remain grateful, years later, for abortions in London which gave them back their lives and let them have cherished children when they were able. The stories taught us that there was no such thing as a ''soft'' case. All abortions are hard, all abortions necessary, if that's what the woman needs.

As a nation, stories have always been the way we communicated, persuaded, shared, bonded.

It's the most powerful way we've had of putting ideas into the world and giving them legs.


Constituencies with the strongest Yes/No vote

The table below shows the top five constituencies with the strongest vote for or against repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Dublin Bay South 78.49% 21.51%

Dún Laoghaire 77.06% 22.94%

Dublin Fingal 76.96% 23.04%

Dublin Central 76.51% 23.49%

Dublin Rathdown 76.10% 23.90%

Donegal 48.13% 51.87%

And the No side didn't have stories. Their arguments were not real - they did not come from people. The ''women of the Eighth'' storytellers are the custodians of a secret history that runs through the fabric of Ireland's history. Today we tie a knot in that thread. No more. That is something to celebrate.

Sunday Independent

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