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'You have to examine your conscience': What tipped the scales for someone who voted for the 8th in 1983?

“I gave a lot of thought to this referendum.”

THE YEAR WAS 1951, Seán T. O’Kelly was President of Ireland, Éamon De Valera had begun his second term as Taoiseach, and in a rural town in the Irish midlands, a family of six welcomed the arrival of their seventh member, Claire*.

The new arrival lived a life typical of 1950s rural Ireland, with the Church playing a mammoth role in family life, education and the shaping of societal ‘norms’.

In 1983, nine months after giving birth to her first child, Claire, then 32, bore witness to the 8th Amendment of the Irish constitution, which recognised the equal right to life of the unborn.

PastedImage-7103 Source: RollingNews.ie

A practicing Catholic, Claire, who was educated by nuns and oblivious of terms including ‘contraception’ and ‘abortion’ until her late teens, supported the Amendment, but does not recall it having as profound an impact on her as current debate.

I don’t have much memory of the ins and outs of the 83 Amendment. I wasn’t paying a huge amount of attention. This changed with the X case back in the early nineties.

Referring to one of the most contentious and high-profile legal battles in the history of the State, which saw High Court officials grant an injunction preventing a 14-year-old rape victim from travelling to the UK for an abortion, Claire – like thousands others – found herself conflicted on her stance.

The decision was eventually overruled by the Supreme Court, but the case cast doubt on Claire’s black and white perception of abortion legislation.

She shouldn’t have been stopped. It was awful. She shouldn’t have had to go abroad, but at the same time I didn’t think abortion should be here, as standard, either.

More than 25 years on and heavily involved in the Catholic church, she admits she felt apprehensive when talk turned to a potential repeal of the 8th Amendment in recent years.

While advised of the volume of misinformation being circulated and cognisant of the devastating impact the 8th Amendment has had on thousands of Irish women and girls, Claire, now in her late 60s, initially couldn’t shake off her misgivings.

At her very core, she feels she is Pro-Life, and yet the idea of removing choice from the hands of women and girls in Ireland didn’t sit well.

The entire campaign hasn’t sat well.

I know that the Church is in favour of the No campaign. I felt guilty and I felt torn. And other people have felt the same. My immediate thought is ‘I don’t agree with abortion’, but then there has been lots that the church has objected to through the years, which I haven’t agreed with.

When asked to elaborate, Claire added: “The church objects to homosexuality but I voted in favour of same-sex marriage. I’m not led and fed entirely. I have my own opinions.”

repeal feat Source: Shutterstock

So, where did her reluctance to repeal steam from?

My immediate thought was that from the time of conception it was a baby, and in some ways, I still believe that, but at the same time I know it’s a continuous process. I was also concerned about legislation, how strict would the 12-week line actually be?

Admitting she has been reduced to tears on numerous occasions when discussing the 8th Amendment, Claire knew that she would never be faced with a crisis pregnancy and ultimately sought to educate herself further on the matter.

I listened to a lot of discussion on the radio. I read up on stances, both for and against the repeal. I… I gave a lot of thought to this referendum. It’s… the first time I’ve paid such attention. And in some way, I feel like I understand all the points of views.

But with just days to go until she enters the polling booth?

I went from a no to a reluctant yes to a definite yes.

pro choice Source: Shutterstock

So, what tipped the scales?

You have to examine your conscience; you have to educate your conscience. You have to give people a choice. I wouldn’t have chosen that particular route, but no one knows better than themselves how they feel. My conscience doesn’t allow me to prevent a woman from having a choice. I cannot decide for someone else.

Challenging the Pro-Life stance, Claire argued that concern for the unborn has been known to dissipate after a certain point, reasoning: “A child has a right to life, but it also has a right to a quality of life. ”

If a baby is a born and the mother is suicidal or distressed, the child is immediately entering into a situation of stress because the mother is unwell. They’re totally dependent on somebody else, and who is going to provide for and care for that baby then? People seem to care so much about the unborn child, but less about it when it’s born.

Claire feels gratified that a Yes vote would protect women and girls in Ireland; assured it would remove the shroud of secrecy that has surrounded thousands of decisions over the last three decades, and hopeful that it will provide women with enough support to make the right decision for themselves.

Choice means they may not be as panicked, as frightened. They are supported by law. They wouldn’t have to rush, arrange travel, gather money, keep secrets. It doesn’t mean more abortions; it means more support.

On May 25th, 35 years after she voted in favour of the 8th Amendment, Claire will be voting in favour of its repeal.

*Name has been changed

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