Protesters hold up placards during the London March for Choice, calling for the legalising of abortion in Ireland after the referendum announcement, outside the Embassy of Ireland in central London on September 30, 2017.
Protesters hold up placards during the London March for Choice, calling for the legalising of abortion in Ireland after the referendum announcement, outside the Embassy of Ireland in central London on September 30, 2017. Photo: Getty Images

One of the most divisive referenda in Ireland's history has divided New York's tight-knit Irish community — with some ex-pats planning to return to the Emerald Isle to cast their vote on the proposed liberalization of Ireland's abortion laws.

Demonstrations from both pro-life and pro-choice camps, spearheaded by Irish citizens, have spilled onto the streets of NYC in recent months as the abortion referendum comes to a head this Friday.

A traditionally Catholic country with conservative ideals, Ireland has made huge strides in becoming increasingly liberal in the last two decades. With an increased inclination towards secularism, the ongoing Peace Process in the North, and the grassroots social justice movement from Irish colleges; the political and social landscape has altered immeasurably since the '90s.

The next step for Ireland's progressives is securing the removal of the Eighth Amendment, which grants the unborn the equal right to life to that of the mother, but abortion rights have been met with significant backlash from the pro-life lobby and the Catholic Church.

 

Intense campaigning on the universally contested abortion topic is now taking place in Ireland, with campaigners erecting posters, going door to door to speak with the electorate, and disseminating literature.

New York's Irish are heading #HomeToVote

The #HomeToVote movement is encouraging Irish citizens to travel home and vote.

One of those making the trip across the Atlantic Ocean is Dubliner-turned-Brooklynite, Lucie Heseltine.

Lucie moved to Brooklyn a little over a year ago and is currently working in the legal department of a financial agency in the city.

"The fact of the matter is that abortions do happen, and will continue to happen whether this referendum passes or not. If it passes, it will allow for equal medical attention for every woman in need, not merely those with the resources to be able to travel to obtain it," said Heseltine.

Louth native John Aidan Byrne, the founder of Irish Pro-Life USA, has lived in New York for 30 years.

He argues that more needs to be done to expand the postal voting criteria for Irish citizens living abroad as the lack of voting options for the diaspora has led to a great sense of “disenfranchisement.”

As it stands, Irish citizens living abroad cannot be added to the Register of Electors.

"The coming referendum will have profound consequences for us all," John says. "The Irish and our friends in America have seen the horrible destruction of legalized abortion nationwide. Since we are denied a vote, we implore our fellow Irishmen and Irishwomen to be our voice, as well as a voice for mothers and their unborn children — and to vote no."

Currently, the only instance in which abortion is legal in Ireland is when there is a risk to the mother's life.

Health Minister Simon Harris' draft legislation proposes that if passed, abortion will be allowed in all circumstances up to 12 weeks gestation. In the event where the mother's life is at risk, abortions will be accessible up to 24 weeks gestation. Beyond 24 weeks, abortion will only be accessible in the case of fatal fetal abnormalities.

If the referendum does not pass, the status quo will remain.

"The fact that Irish people living abroad are not afforded the opportunity to vote on something as important as constitutional reform is a travesty and something that needs to be changed,” said Heseltine. “I am lucky enough to be in the position where I am able to return home to vote in the referendum. I see it as my responsibility to do so.”

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