The past week has been an eventful one for reproductive rights. In a landslide referendum, Ireland voted to lift the eighth amendment to the constitution, which effectively banned abortions. This was helped in part by the #HomeToVote movement, where Irish expatriates who were not given the opportunity to submit a postal vote flew home to have their voices heard. Back in NSW, the Upper House held a conscience vote to install 150-metre “safe access zones” for women attending clinics that offer abortions.
For many Irish immigrants, both pieces of news are cause for great celebration, however not without some complication. When those living in New South Wales return home from their triumphant victory, they will return to a state in which abortion is still in the Crimes Act. NSW’s legislative council (of which three quarters are men) was unable to pass a bill decriminalising the procedure last year. The lead-up to last week’s vote was marred with inflammatory false claims from MPs such as Reverend Fred Nile, who stated that “baby body parts” are responsible for blocking the plumbing in a Sydney abortion clinic.
Alice Murphy, an Irish immigrant living in Sydney, toyed briefly with the idea of flying back home to cast her vote in favour of decriminalising abortion before finding “the cost was just too prohibitive”. But that wasn’t going to deter her.
“I woke up on Wednesday morning with the idea to pay for someone else closer to home to travel. I tweeted with the #HomeToVote hashtag and was directed to the ‘Abroad for Yes’ Facebook group — a collection of Irish (and incredible non-Irish) people living around the world who all wanted to contribute to getting ‘repealers’ home to the polls.”
Alice was able to partially fund trips to Ireland for people from Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Aberdeen, Glasgow and the English Midlands. “That made watching from the sidelines in Sydney ten times easier for me,” she said.
Brianna Parkins is a journalist for ABC’s Media Watch and Irish migrant living in Australia. She is also the 2016 winner of the Rose of Tralee (an Irish festival that celebrates women on the basis of their personality and smarts) who controversially used her platform to speak about the movement to repeal the eighth amendment. Parkins participated in the #HomeToVote campaign, flying to Ireland in order to campaign for the cause despite not being eligible to vote, given that she had lived outside of Ireland for more than 18 months.
“I came home to finish what I started two years ago as the Sydney Rose of Tralee,” she told Crikey. “I think my mum and dad would have given me a swift kick up the arse if I caused all that controversy and then didn’t do anything when the referendum finally came.”
When asked about the recent success of the safe access zones passing in the NSW, Brianna reflected on her involvement in agitating for abortion law reform in Australia as well.
“My involvement started as I was growing up in Western Sydney watching protesters harass women entering [clinics that offered abortion services] on my way to and from school. So when I saw exclusion zone legislation introduced I got a bit emotional. As a girl who grew up in the working class West I had friends struggle to access abortion because of the cost in Sydney. Ultimately, I would like to see it covered by Medicare and available in public hospitals,” she said.
Many Irish residents have referred to Savita Halappanavar as their inspiration for fighting for abortion rights. Halappanavar was a 31-year-old mother-to-be who was denied an abortion by Irish doctors after miscarrying in 2012, and died tragically of sepsis a week later. She became the face of the repeal movement, and inspired many of the #HomeToVote campaigners to sacrifice their time for the cause.
Jackie Danielle Kirk, an Irish citizen living in Perth, said that her hometown of Galway was deeply affected by the Halappanavar case. “I grew up surrounded by the influence of Savita’s case, so I voted Yes for her, and for all the women here, so that if they go through the same thing, they can now get the proper care they deserve from our country,” she told Crikey.
The victory in Ireland has shown that health and wellbeing should take precedence over misinformation, neglect and fearmongering — which, in turn, raises big questions for Australia.
When Alice Murphy was asked what she would say to those that oppose abortion rights in Australia, she reflected on the reasons people choose to abort.
“An abortion is never an easy decision, and it is never an aspirational decision, but sometimes, it is the right one. My message to anyone in Australia who opposes the right to choose is this: ‘Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan’, which in Irish translates to ‘there is no freedom until women themselves are truly free’.”