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'It's taking time': Together for Yes to continue campaigning one year on from result of repeal vote

Sunday marks one year since the result of the 8th amendment referendum was announced.

Ailbhe Smyth (centre) celebrates at Dublin Castle as the results are announced in the referendum on the 8th Amendment
Ailbhe Smyth (centre) celebrates at Dublin Castle as the results are announced in the referendum on the 8th Amendment
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

TOGETHER FOR YES says it will continue to campaign on Ireland’s abortion legislation as the first anniversary of the repeal of the 8th amendment approaches.

The group is set to hold a photocall event outside the Project Arts Centre in Dublin this afternoon to mark one year since Ireland voted to legalise abortion services.

The referendum paved the way for a rollout of services from 1 January, 36 years after the introduction of a constitutional ban on a termination of pregnancies was introduced.

And speaking ahead of today’s event, Ailbhe Smyth of the Together for Yes campaign said the group will lobby the government on aspects of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act which legislates for abortion. 

“I’d like to see the three-day waiting period removed,” she tells TheJournal.ie, referring to a stipulation requiring women to wait 72 hours after presenting to their GP before being able to terminate their pregnancy.

“It wasn’t part of the recommendations as part of the Citizens’ Assembly, and it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. I think it was a political gesture.

Women are going to go back to their doctor with the same decision they had three days before. No-one wants to see that precious time wasted in the early stages of a pregnancy.

‘Patchy’ service

Six months after the introduction of legislation regulating the termination of pregnancies, the Department of Health has still not released exact figures on the number of people who have used the service.

It does not expect to do so until the end of the year, in order to give hospitals and healthcare professionals a chance to implement the service fully.

However, Smyth reports that the number of Irish women travelling abroad to obtain an abortion has dropped.

“We don’t have statistics on anything yet, but we know that the rates of abortions for Irish women in the UK seems to have fallen significantly,” she explains.

“Medical services here tell us that women are coming forward.”

Ireland abortion laws Health Minister Simon Harris (left) and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) wave at crowds as they celebrate at Dublin Castle after the results of the referendum on the 8th Amendment Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

However, despite health officials anticipating that abortion services would be available across the country from the start of the year, Smyth describes the current availability of services as “geographically patchy”.

Figures obtained by TheJournal.ie last month show that just over half of Ireland’s 19 maternity units were providing abortion services three months into 2019.

In one instance, a hospital raised concerns ahead of the 1 January deadline that the implementation of abortion services could “overwhelm” its existing services.

But Smyth is confident that issues like this will lessen over the next 12 months, as more hospitals train staff and get services up and running.

She says:

It’s early days and we’re well aware there’s a lot involved in bringing in a service like this. It’s like turning around the Queen Mary – it’s a huge turnaround.

“It’s taking time, which was always going to be the case. And of course it’s difficult to be patient when you know women need the service so badly.

“But health service people and others who are committed to it have done a fantastic job of work, and there has to be a degree of understanding too.”

Positive impact

Sunday marks exactly one year since the result of the referendum was announced, with 66.4% to 33.6% voting to remove the 8th amendment.

Together For Yes will mark the occasion in private on Saturday, with Smyth suggesting that this week’s local and European elections somewhat hindered the campaign’s ability to organise a more public event.

But she also highlights how last year’s campaign may have had a positive impact on the representation of women ahead of the two elections on Friday.

“There are far more women stepping forward for local elections and the European Parliament elections this year,” she says.

“That’s a very strong impact or ripple effect of repeal campaign and it really matters. It shows how women are valued in regard to their citizenship and their voices.

“So many young women got politically engaged during the campaign last year, and we’re really seeing a follow-through on that now.”

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