Irish citizens living all over the world are traveling back to their home country to challenge one of the strictest abortion bans in the world.
UPDATED 05/25/18 05:30 P.M. PST: Exit polls show landslide support for the repeal of the 8th Amendment with as much as 69% in favor.
The referendum today could potentially result in the repeal of the republic’s Eighth Amendment, which outlaws nearly all abortions in the country, forcing thousands of women each year to leave the country in search of abortion services.
Pro-choice activists in Dublin dressed in red and white, evoking the imagery of The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel which deals heavily in the issues of bodily autonomy.
The deliberate termination of a pregnancy has been outlawed in Ireland since 1861, but the real controversy didn’t begin until the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In 1967, the U.K. legalized the procedure up to the 28-week mark, which alarmed Irish conservatives as well as the Catholic Church.
So, they launched a campaign for a constitutional referendum in order to introduce a constitutional amendment to protect the Irish ban against the procedure.
The referendum ultimately took place in 1983, with 67% of the Irish population voting in favor of the new amendment, which reads:
“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn, and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
The ban didn’t receive much more attention until 1992, when a 14-year-old girl was raped and impregnated.
The girl, whose identity remains anonymous, planned to travel to the U.K. to undergo the procedure, but was stopped by Ireland’s Attorney General who was alerted to her plan by her parents who wanted to conduct a paternity test to determine the identity of the rapist.
The Attorney General issues an injunction that legally barred her from leaving the country.
Denied any recourse, the young girl quickly became suicidal, which prompted the Irish Supreme Court to take up the case.
The court ultimately decided to lift the injunction, and ruled that individuals could receive an abortion in cases in which there was a real risk to the life of the mother, including from suicide.
The biggest change that came out of that case, however, was the decision to legalize travel abroad to receive an abortion as well as the ability to share information about foreign abortion providers within Ireland.
Then, in 2012, Savita Praveen Halappanavar died in a Galway hospital five days after she began miscarrying because doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy.
She died of sepsis at the age of 31.
The tragedy sparked renewed furor towards the ban, the momentum of which still carries into today.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission has called the ban “cruel and inhumane.”
Even if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, though, the country is expected to allow abortion only up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy.
It is estimated that roughly 170,000 women have left the country to seek an abortion since 1980.
You can check out the travel stories and experiences of Irish citizens traveling home for the vote by searching the hashtag #HomeToVote, which has gone viral across social media platforms.