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Here are some of the ways in which people who are too young to vote have been campaigning for the referendum

From Wexford to Westmeath, young people across the country have been involved.

Ireland abortion laws Source: Niall Carson

IT WOULD PROBABLY be an understatement to say that now is a particularly frustrating time to be a teenager in Ireland.

Whatever the result of the upcoming referendum is, there’s no doubt that it will have a massive impact on the lives of young people in Ireland. We got in touch with several teenagers to see how this feels, and what they’re contributing to campaigns across the country, since they cannot use their vote yet.

Ireland abortion laws Source: PA Archive/PA Images

One of the first people we spoke to was a young transgender man, who we will refer to as ‘R’.

R, a 16-year-old from Dublin, got in touch with me to talk about how his frustration does not only lie in the fact that he cannot vote, but in the fact that many people like him are completely left out of the conversations surrounding the Eighth Amendment.

R told us:

I hear people all the time say that abortion is not an LGBTQ issue, when in fact it actually is. I’m just as able to become pregnant as many cisgender women are, and that fact makes me deeply uncomfortable. I don’t want to go through a pregnancy. Most trans men and non-binary people that I know don’t want to experience this either.

R added that this is particularly troubling because of the fact that transgender and non-binary people are at increased risk of sexual assault.

It wasn’t until Savita Hallapanavar’s death that R learned that abortion was illegal in Ireland.

I just assumed it was legal, because it’s a basic medical procedure in most countries I had any knowledge of at the time.

Since R became aware that abortion is illegal in Ireland, he has attended rallies and says that he has never been more comfortable among a crowd of people than he was at Strike 4 Repeal in 2017.

I’m still wearing the black ribbon they gave to me in on that day in 2017, and I do not plan on taking it off until the Eighth Amendment is repealed – whether that be on the 25th of May 2018, or in 2080.

Ireland: Protest Against Abortion Referendum In Dublin Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Anna, who is 17 and from Dublin 7, has been canvassing and working at stalls to try and encourage as many people to vote as possible.

She told us that she’s really upset that she can’t vote in the referendum, but she knows that she’s doing everything possible to support the ‘Yes’ vote.

My mother has always been very passionate about many social issues like marriage equality, feminism, etc. and has been involved in these issues before. She is very passionate about Repeal, as am I, so she suggested that we both volunteer for Together For Yes together, to do some canvassing. She made it clear that I only had to do what I felt comfortable doing, and only volunteer for what I wanted to do.

After her first canvass with her mam, Anna has grown even more enthusiastic.

It was such a great experience. I just knew I wanted to keep volunteering . I now do canvassing twice a week and occasionally help at stalls. I’ve had a few negative and upsetting experiences during my time spent volunteering.

One of these negative experiences was receiving verbal abuse from a middle-aged man, while working at a stall with another 17-year-old. Anna said that the man spent ten minutes telling cruel lies and making sexist comments, that left both her and the girl she was working with quite upset.

Luckily, there was a few lovely women who witnessed this and came up afterwards to check if we were alright. I find volunteering tiring, both physically and emotionally, but I know that it’s such important work and I’ll keep doing it as long as I need to, because I know the dangerous effects of the Eighth Amendment and I trust women.

Ireland: Ireland: Thousands Strike 4 Repeal in Dublin Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

 Aoibh, from Dun Laoghaire, is 17 and has been leafleting for the ‘Yes’ side.

Until recent years, Aoibh believed that lowering the voting age would mean that people would begin to “brainlessly follow their parents/peers votes”, but she’s now stunned at how much she and her schoolmates have matured. She now thinks that the voting age should be lowered to 16, particularly for referendums.

Being unable to vote gives me a sense of helplessness. I’m so scared that this Amendment could harm my friends, someone in my family, or me. I’m so angry at how Irish abortion laws view and treat women and girls. Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing I can do to stop it. The Eighth Amendment is not only an insult to women, but a danger to them. As I can’t vote, I’m determined to do all I can to remove it in other ways.

Aoibh is too young to go canvassing (however, people under 18 can go with a parent or guardian) so she does her bit by going to rallies and marches, donating money through Flea Market for choice, and chatting about the importance of the referendum as much as possible with family and friends online and in person.

Repealing the Eighth Amendment really means a lot to Aoibh.

It means changing a culture where women are talked over, brutalised and blamed for bad luck by people who have absolutely no business doing so. We ask rape victims what they were wearing, we tell girls to take sexual harassment on the chin. We blame women when we hear their partners shared their intimate photos without consent.
So many people consider women’s private lives their business and make situations harder for women who already have it quite difficult. It’s about so much more than abortion rights. I doubt there’s a woman or girl in Ireland who doesn’t deserve more kindness and respect than she’s given. Repeal is about giving it to her. 

Ireland abortion laws Source: Niall Carson

17-year-old Ellen from Louth believes that all women, non-binary and transgender citizens deserve the basic healthcare that they’d get almost anywhere else in the world.

Ellen has been working on stalls and canvassing with Sinn Féin and her local Together For Yes group. The responses she’s had have only been positive.

Ellen hasn’t been pro-choice for her entire life, but it didn’t take her long to educate herself.

When I was around 13 or 14, I had the notion “Oh, abortion is murder.” That’s what my parents thought. But, through reading about it I began to realize what the whole thing was actually about and since then have managed to convince my parents to vote yes as well.

Like Aoibh, Ellen worries about the consequences that her friends and family could face because of the Eighth Amendment.

We have to do this for every person that the Eighth Amendment has hurt, abused and neglected. For everyone who has had to travel overseas alone and make one of the hardest decisions that they could ever make with no support.
For the future generation, who don’t deserve to be treated as second class citizens because they have the ability to carry a child. We’re not going to get this opportunity again any time soon, so we have no other option that to repeal.

There are only 18 people in Ellen’s year at school, and she says that it’s a constant topic of conversation, as all but one student are pro-choice and are pretty active in their campaigning.

Ireland: Ireland: Thousands Strike 4 Repeal in Dublin Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Deborah from Westmeath is frustrated that she cannot vote, but she has to put her trust in the people of Ireland to make the best decision for her future.

Deborah is 17, and says she’s been pro-choice since before she knew what being pro-choice was.

It never really a question to me. It just seems logical that anyone with a uterus should have bodily autonomy.

She became involved in the campaign after she went to a meeting with the local Together For Yes group:

It was the loveliest thing. I was the only young person there and the only non-doctor, lawyer or mother, but I felt so comfortable and heard with those ladies. One of the sweetest moments of the meeting was an old man approaching us and slipping some money into the collection box, in a deserted bar at 11 o’clock. He said a nice word and left, and everyone was really overcome at how genuine and unexpected the gesture was.
From going to the meeting by myself, I got a few badges for my friends and fam to wear, but most importantly, I was given some leaflets to distribute in the area. Terrifying, but satisfying. Made me realise just how hard leafleting is. Letterboxes are tough work.

United Kingdom: Pro-life and Pro-Choice Demonstrations in London Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

We also spoke to a 13-year-old student from Wexford named Aoife*

Although she is only in first year of secondary school, she’s very engaged with the referendum.

I am 13 so I do not get a say in what happens in this country, even though it will affect my future. People are making decisions for me about my body and what I do with it, and this is wrong.

Aoife told us that she’s “100% on the repeal side”, and knew straight away that it’s not up to her to make decisions for other women. She also feels like her input is dismissed far too often because of her age:

I feel like no one’s listening to my opinions because “I’m too young to understand.” If adults think we are not educated enough, then educate us! Isn’t that what they’re meant to be doing in the first place?

Unfortunately, because she’s very busy at school, Aoife can’t be involved in the referendum as much as she’d like to be. She’s a little bit concerned about the fact that people in her year aren’t educating themselves on the topic.

What girls in my class do know, is off of the posters along the street, which are mainly ‘Vote No’ posters. But I have seen some girls wearing badges with Vote Yes on them.

*Some of the people we spoke to wished to remain anonymous, so names have been changed.

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Kelly Earley

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