Anna travelled from her home in rural Ireland to England to have an abortion 17 years ago. This week she will fly back from her current home in England to vote in Friday's referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the constitution, which makes abortion illegal in almost all circumstances.
“I just felt that I have to go home. I have to make it right and help stop women still having to travel for abortion,” said Anna, who asked BuzzFeed News not to use her real name. She is voting yes to legalising abortion.
Irish citizens like her who have lived out of the country for less than 18 months are still eligible to vote, and thousands more are expected to fly home from around the world to have their say as Ireland goes to the polls on Friday.
Anna was 16 and still at school when she discovered she was pregnant. She said she felt there was no way she could have continued the pregnancy.
“I come from a really rural part of the country where everybody knows everyone’s business, and everything you do is public,” she said.
“I don’t care what people say about me, personally, but my parents are very active in the community and the church, and I was so scared about what that would mean for them.”
Reputation wasn’t the only reason Anna didn’t want to go through with the pregnancy. She said the man who got her pregnant was abusive and if she had kept the child she would have felt trapped.
“I would have had some tie to a man who thought it was normal to hit women, or be violent towards women and mentally manipulative as well,” she said.
“[The abortion] gave me a way out to get away from him. I would not have been able to do that if I’d had to go through with a pregnancy I didn’t want.”
Anna remembers feeling sick as she bled on her way back from England after the abortion, but she thinks she “got away lightly” compared with “some absolute horror stories about the state of women coming home”.
She felt relieved after returning home and said that she’s never regretted her decision. “I went on to art college, I went to live in Italy for nine months, I’ve travelled, and these are all things that I could not have done if I had gone through with a pregnancy that I didn’t want,” she said.
Last week a woman named Paula who was guest-posting on the @Ireland Twitter account, which is curated by a different Irish voice every week, described her experience of having an abortion in England without an anaesthetic, because she could only raise enough money to have the procedure without one.
“The walk on jelly legs seemed endless, then out to the bus. I had left my car behind as I couldn’t afford the car park. I got on a bus and passed out. Eventually made it home,” she wrote.
“I remember lying on the sitting room floor still in the same clothes as I simply couldn’t support myself on my legs. I didn’t sleep that night, the bleeding was horrific, the pain was horrific. It was frightening.”
Lauryn Canny, 19, who recently moved to the US to pursue an acting career, is flying back to Dublin this week to vote Yes to repealing the Eighth Amendment.
“When the referendum was finally called I was already living in Los Angeles, but I knew I had to get home,” she told BuzzFeed News.
“I have to fly the 11 hours home because in this referendum every vote counts. I couldn't sit back in sunny California writing some nice tweets and hoping that everything works out; I had to make sure my voice in this matter gets heard.”
While this will be the first time Canny has been able to vote in a referendum, she said she has been campaigning for abortion rights for years.
As she prepared to return to Ireland, Canny said she felt nervous but positive: “I feel like the result is going to be very close. However, I have a huge amount of faith in our country. It comes down to whether we trust women and want women to be treated equally.
“I think Ireland is ready to become more caring and compassionate.”
Aoife Cassin will be returning to Ireland from her current home of Rome to vote on Friday.
Cassin told BuzzFeed News that she plans to vote Yes to repeal the Eighth Amendment, “in solidarity with all of the women and girls that have been forced to travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies for whatever their reason”.
She said that living in a country where abortion is accessible has left her feeling embarrassed and frustrated about Ireland’s highly restrictive abortion law.
“I want to be proud to return home and live in a country where I am respected and treated as an equal with full reproductive choice,” she said.
“No woman or girl takes this decision lightly and this is a personal choice that should no longer be in the hands of our government. It's time for change.”
Maria Farrell, who lives in London, will travel to her hometown of Dublin on Friday and will be voting to keep the Eighth Amendment.
“I am voting No because as a woman, I and my future children deserve a life free from the threat of abortion,” Farrell told BuzzFeed News.
Farrell, who actively campaigns against abortion in London, said she has found that people have openly objected to her anti-abortion views, something she hasn't experienced back home in Ireland.
“This intolerance is aimed at anyone that veers away from a liberal ideology that I had previously only witnessed aimed at Brexit supporters,” she said.
“This intolerance is comparable to that between the Protestants and Catholics in the north of Ireland during the Troubles. It’s a vitriolic hatred of anything that appears to threaten liberalism. Abortion isn’t liberal, it’s anything but. It’s regressive, sexist, and prejudicial.”
The referendum result is expected to be confirmed on Saturday afternoon.