They’re coming from Los Angeles. From Buenos Aires. From Toronto. From Tokyo. This week, thousands of Irish citizens took to the skies on their way to the polls, heading home to end a draconian abortion ban.
In a referendum today, Irish voters will decide whether to repeal the eighth amendment to the country’s constitution, which prohibits abortion in all cases, including rape and incest, except when a woman’s life is in danger. Ireland’s abortion law, which has been repeatedly criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Commission, is considered to be among Europe’s harshest. Ten to 12 women and girls each day leave the country to access comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services, typically going to the United Kingdom, where abortion has been legal since 1967.
If the referendum passes, the Irish government has said it would enact legislation to allow abortion for up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy—a timeframe that is still extremely limiting, but would be a marked sign of progress for those women and girls crossing country lines, and even moreso to those who are unable to leave the country due to financial and circumstantial constraints.
Irish citizens who have lived abroad for less than 18 months are still eligible to vote in elections, but Irish law does not allow for absentee or voting by mail in most cases—so the hashtags #HometoVote and #HometoVoteYes began trending on Twitter this week as feminists documented and shared their journeys home to cast their votes.
— Roger O'Keeffe (@rogerokeeffe) May 24, 2018
— keanu niamh (@HoorayForNiamh) May 22, 2018
Boarding a 13 hour flight from Buenos Aires to London. London to Dublin tomorrow. No one at airport knows what my repeal jumper means. No one here knows why I'm travelling. If this feels isolating for me, can't imagine how lonely it must be 4 her, travelling 2 the UK #HomeToVote
— Ciaran Gaffney (@gaffneyciaran) May 22, 2018
I have been living outside of Ireland for longer than 18 months so cannot vote. I have helped fund someone to travel home who is eligible to vote. I am passionate about this issue – women have a right to bodily autonomy. Please #bemyyes #repealthe8th pic.twitter.com/DYlm9WzSQ2
— Anne Marie (@nanzypanz) May 23, 2018
— Saoi Media (@paulamkehoe) May 24, 2018
I'm coming #HomeToVote ! Will be traveling 5,169 miles from LA to Dublin and will be thinking of every Irish woman who has had to travel to access healthcare that should be available in their own country. Let's do this, Ireland! #repealthe8th #VoteYes pic.twitter.com/fZDxUIGrs9
— Lauryn Canny (@LaurynCanny) May 23, 2018
In scenes similar to those from the historic Women’s March on Washington in 2017, which brought together feminists from across the world on planes, many young women posted pictures of themselves and their traveling companions in black sweatshirts with the word REPEAL spelled out across the front in bold white letters. Others took to Twitter to show their support to those making the trip—offering rides, places to stay or in some cases plane tickets for those unable to fund the trip themselves. An “Abroad for Yes” Facebook page boasted thousands of members seeking to donate; an unofficial welcome committee gathered underneath a colorful “WELCOME HOME” banner in Terminal 1 of the Dublin Airport.
Change has come in waves to Ireland—a deeply Catholic and very conservative country. In 1995, divorce was only legalized by a narrow margin of 51 to 49 percent in a similar referendum—but 20 years later, Ireland became the first country to legalize gay marriage by popular vote. Recent polling has shown that 56 percent of voters are in favor of the repeal, with 26 percent voting against and undecided voters making up as much as 20 percent of the electorate.
In the aftermath of the UK’s surprise Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, the importance of every single vote has been made clear on the global stage—and Irish feminists aren’t taking any chances.