Irish abortion referendum: The emigrants crowd-funding their way home to vote

Mimi Launder
Thursday 24 May 2018 13:30
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People inside and outside Ireland are ready for a fight ahead of the abortion referendum on Friday 25 May, as Irish emigrants jet home from across the world for the historic poll.

Voters will be asked if they want to repeal the eight amendment of the country's constitution, which effectively bans abortions by recognising the equal right to life of both mother and unborn child.

Ireland hasn't made it easy for emigrants to vote, not allowing postal voting from outside the country. But nearly 40,000 voters are being asked to head Home To Vote to help fight for safe abortions.

Even for the many who can't afford the journey, help is often in reach. Cambridge, Oxford, London and Nottingham universities have launched bursaries to help students fly to Ireland, regardless of their voting preference.

Elsewhere, voters have received funding from family and friends. We talked to Irish women (and men) who went a step further, putting their trust in strangers and crowd-funding websites to get home.

"Living in a world with no choice over my own body is a terrifying thought for me."

Michelle Daly was born in Dublin, moving to Chicago late last year. It's "been going great", said Michelle - but when she saw the referendum announcement, it "broke my heart that I couldn't help". She added:

I could see that the NO side had such a huge voice which made me terrified for the future of women in Ireland. It's 2018, women should have a right and full control over their own bodies.

The journey home was almost 6000km, but Michelle felt "obliged" to make it "for all of the women who had to make the terrifying journey to do what was best for them at the time".

It is not an amendment that has directly affected me at all however one day it could affect me, it could affect my future children, my friends and my family.

Living in a world with no choice over my own body is a terrifying thought for me. I had a burning feeling that it needs to change. 

When Michelle came across 'Abroad for Yes', which is trying to gather Irish citizens abroad to vote Yes, her belief that travelling home to vote would be impossible slowly but steadily faded away.

In what has been a terrifying time for so many Irish women, Michelle found a treasure trove of hope and togetherness through her GoFundMe page: 

The generosity of these people broke my heart.

They blew me away with their kindness and their passion for the cause.

After seeing the flights of about $700, I decided to set up a page of my own and somehow exceeded my goal of $450, raising almost $600!

As I could afford for some of the flight myself, I passed on the generosity and sent almost $150 onto others who needed help coming home to vote YES on 25 May.

Every spare penny I get I have been donating to Together For Yes as it is the least I could do to give back to those who helped me when I needed it. 

"I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t use my voice to stand up for women."

Picture: Katie Eustace

 

Katie Eustace, from South County Dublin, moved to Berlin to study North American Studies. Like many Irish people around her age, the first time she ever voted was for marriage equality in 2015, and this referendum stirs is a similar call to action. She told us: 

I think that this is a referendum that hits very close to home for all women, regardless of their history or their future. It’s a matter of bodily autonomy, and a matter of ingrained, systemic sexism that I am tired of associating with my country.

Baffled that she can't vote from abroad, Katie put her trust in friends, families and strangers to head home - and they obliged, raising her funds in less than four hours on her GoFundMe page. "I did cry," she said. "It was a very special moment."

But sadly Katie cannot put the same faith in her country that it will right for women's rights. 

I would love to say that I’m confident enough in its likelihood to pass that I would feel comfortable not flying home.

Unfortunately though, the truth of the matter is that this is a societal issue so deeply rooted in the religious history of our country that I’m just not certain how the people are going to vote.

I’m flying home because I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t use my voice to stand up for women.

She added: 

It’s time for Ireland to show us, its women and its girls, the support and the love that we deserve as human beings.

It’s time to let women heal at home, in peace and without shame, no matter what their reasons for abortion may be.

We are not breeders, we are not vessels, and we will not be kept silent.

"This referendum is not about me."

Picture: David Poland(David Poland)

David Poland, who grew up in Galway, moved to Bilbao, Spain to teach English. On his GoFundMe page, he wrote that he is "adamant that I am making it home to vote to Repeal the 8th Amendment".

He said that hitting his target "shows a passionate desire for repealing the 8th", but that he was "dismayed" that he couldn't vote in the same-sex marriage referendum unless he flew back to Ireland and feels the same for this vote.

I feel a lesser Irish citizen due to the fact that I cannot vote in the referendum from abroad. I love my country and I feel passionate about being involved in shaping its progress.

He added:

This referendum is not about me.

Luckily, I will never be in a situation where I will have to decide if it is the right choice for me to have an abortion for whatever reason.

However for many Irish women who do have to consider this, I believe in their decisions. I believe they can & should have the right to decide what is best option for their lives.

My friends, my cousins, my girlfriend could find themselves having to make this decision and allowing them to decide for themselves is why I'm flying home. 

More: Anti-abortion advert in Ireland suggests women are a threat to children

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