Hours before the polls closed in Ireland Friday for a constitutional referendum on abortion, reproductive justice advocates across the internet were hung up on posts from Irish citizens who came #HomeToVote. From photos of women peeling through the airport dressed in “Resist” sweatshirts to videos of adult children surprising their parents at home, even a brief scroll through the hashtag stirs up joy.
Ireland does allow postal voting, but only for people who meet certain restrictions if they aren’t diplomats, police, or military. Even with the reward of possibly repealing Ireland’s eighth amendment, which equates the right to life of a pregnant person to the rights of the fetus, these trips didn’t come cheap. On Twitter, some people shared how much they shelled out for a last-minute flight, while others described multi-legged journeys.
Of course, some didn’t have the means to travel for the vote, but by the power vested in the internet, they still found a way to their home country. Under the “Abroad for Yes” campaign, strangers donated thousands of euros to Irish citizens living abroad, primarily students, who booked tickets as late as the day before polls opened for the vote.
— Sinead Walsh (@FindingNinny) May 24, 2018
— Niamh O'Leary (@_niamhol) May 23, 2018
Yesterday #AbroadForYes accommodated me to go #HomeToVote . My heart is bursting! Making that journey that so many young women do and hopefully won’t have to again for abortions each day 🇨🇮 #Repealthe8th already! pic.twitter.com/GagjF4HRBe
— Clara Harte (@clarabelleharte) May 24, 2018
In the private Abroad for Yes Facebook group (open to donors and voters only), people posted their referendum voting cards to confirm their identities, GoFundMe pages or PayPal accounts, and trip information, allowing for donors to give what they pleased. Other donors directly booked travel for voters.
On Friday, the travelers and domestic Irish voters had the opportunity to vote whether to repeal the eighth amendment, which has almost completely banned abortion since 1983, even in the cases of rape, incest, or fatal fetal abnormality. In 2013, an exception was made for pregnancies that risk the life of the pregnant person. The rule change came only after the death of a Savita Halappanavar, who contracted septicemia (aka blood poisoning) after a drawn-out miscarriage, according to the Guardian.
Should the amendment be repealed, the government plans to introduce legislation allowing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and permitting abortion up to 23 weeks in the case of the pregnancy threatening the life of the pregnant person or resulting in a fatal fetal abnormality.
For anyone who’s in a position to be able to chip in – look up the ‘Abroad for Yes’ Facebook page. It’s full of Irish emigrants seeking help to fund their flights home to vote on Friday. I’m sure any help would be greatly appreciated. #repealthe8th #abroadforyes pic.twitter.com/7mppFSlo56
— Michael C (@voxmichaeli) May 20, 2018
As part of #abroadforyes community ❤️ I have been lucky enough to co-fund five peoples journey #HomeToVote #HomeToVoteYes and feel like an Irish mammy waiting to hear they have landed safely on Irish soil #flighttracker #Kenya #Berlin #London #Together4Yes #stressedoutofmybrain
— Susan Creamer (@susan_creamer) May 24, 2018
My friend is in Berlin & I told her about the #abroadforyes facebook page & within mintues, people have donated & her flights are sorted. She's messaging me saying she's shaking & now I'm crying on the street. People are so amazing! Thank you to everyone in that group! ❤
— Kim (@misled_threads) May 22, 2018
Thrilled to be helping two Irish women I don’t know, #HometoVote from Bali and Wales respectively. Safe travels to them and all making the journey to stop other women from having to make cruel and tragic journeys. The #AbroadForYes Facebook page is a thing of wonder.
— Neil Murray (@Neil_Murray57) May 24, 2018
Update: fellow #abroadforyes friends crowdfunded my Aer Lingus flights (not requiring a passport) in less than 10 mins – people are really great!
— Cait Griffin (@Cait_Griffs) May 24, 2018
Speaking to the Daily Dot via Twitter, Rebecca Wilson, one of the Abroad for Yes co-founders, said she and two other women, her sister Lauren Wilson and Hannah McNulty Madden, decided to launch the group when the referendum date was announced in late March. Wilson was visiting Helsinki, where Lauren and McNulty Madden are students.
After realizing Lauren and McNulty Madden weren’t eligible for a postal vote, they looked up the cost of flights and panicked. On Twitter, however, McNulty Madden noticed that people were expressing interest in helping people who wanted to go home to Ireland but couldn’t afford it. The women decided to set up the Abroad for Yes Facebook group as a community for supporters of repealing the eighth amendment to gather and find one another.
Wilson thought they’d help fund travel for maybe 10 people total, but in the first day of the group’s existence funded 5 trips, including for Lauren and McNulty Madden. After traveling back to Dublin, Wilson and the group continued to help others, enlisting three other group administrators. Wilson said they don’t have an exact figure, but she believes they’ve helped raise at least 30,000 euros.
“The amazing part of the group is the kindness people have displayed—it is nothing but support and happiness. It is amazing to witness,” Wilson told the Daily Dot. “This completely blew us away, the small idea from three Irish girls who were frustrated with the possibility of not getting home to vote took off into to this amazing international movement. The generosity is beyond believable.”
Even more remarkable is that 36 hours before the vote, Abroad for Yes doubled in size, growing from 3,000 to nearly 7,000 members. Recipients of online donations described having their travel funded in a matter of hours for last-minute tickets.
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It was clear the internet was eager to help voters purchase plane tickets to broaden abortion access. According to the Guardian, an estimated 2,000 women in Ireland illegally purchase abortion pills online and take them without medical assistance. Another 3,500 women travel abroad for access to abortion services.
Hours left before polls closed, Wilson and the team were still coordinating local travel like bus fare for hopeful voters. Despite having not slept for two days, she still found time to vote herself—right after surprising her sister at the airport. For Wilson and many others, voting to repeal the eighth is a “one in a generation vote,” as Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar estimated that the country likely won’t get another referendum on abortion for 35 years.
“The eighth amendment is a dated law that is directly preventing healthcare to the women of Ireland,” Wilson said. “Abortion happens in Ireland; it is about making it safe for us women to make that choice and be cared for by our country.”
The country will begin counting votes on the referendum Saturday morning with the final result expected by the afternoon.
Update 9:36am CT,May 26: According to Reuters, the abortion law has been repealed in a landslide. Though final results weren’t due until Saturday afternoon, exit polls show that residents voted to overturn the restrictive law by more than two-to-one.
“It’s incredible,” Mary Higgins, an obstetrician and a Together For Yes campaigner, told Reuters. “For all the years and years and years we’ve been trying to look after women and not been able to look after women, this means everything.”
Said Prime Minister Leo Varadkar: “The public have spoken. The result appears to be resounding … What we see is the culmination of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in Ireland over the last couple of decades.”