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'I could never move back to Ireland if abortion law doesn't change'

Irish pro-choice campaigners abroad say they are confident that shifting attitudes in Ireland will lead to a change in abortion laws.

It is hoped the public will vote on the reform in a referendum next May, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying a decision to end the constitutional restriction on abortion is for the people of Ireland to make.

The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign said it is encouraged by a vote by politicians to repeal the Eighth Amendment and introduce new laws to decriminalise terminations in some circumstances, adding that it believes the public will vote for change in 2018.

Two Irish women based in London, who spoke to the Press Association on the condition of anonymity having left the country for an abortion, said a vote against change would make them seriously question moving back to Ireland.

Earlier this month, 14 of the 21 politicians on the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment voted in favour of the repeal of the hugely divisive Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

As it stands, the 1983 Eighth Amendment of the Constitution affords equal rights to pregnant women and unborn children.

Maeve O'Reilly, 30, a member of the London-Irish ARC, originally from Kilkenny, said campaigners are hopeful for change.

"I think there's been a big shift in public attitudes in the last few years towards repeal of the Eighth, as more and more evidence has been presented through both the Citizens' Assembly and the joint Oireachtas Committee and making its way into the news that way.

"And I think the Irish public are engaging with the evidence in this way as well, so I think attitudes have been changing and we're very hopeful that the public will vote to repeal the Eighth next year."

Currently, terminations are only allowed when the life of the mother is at risk, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

More than 3,000 women travel each year to England and Wales for the procedure.

An Irish woman who travelled to London for an abortion when she was younger, said she thinks the time is right for change.

Now in her mid 30s and working as an auditor in London, the woman told PA: "I really believe that now is the time that Ireland needs to have a good look at itself and say 'are we really going to keep exporting our problems?'

"From someone who has a huge family back home of all ages, most of my cousins, including myself, have had to emigrate.

"And it just seems that it's something in the Irish psyche, if we don't want to talk about it, we just sort of export the problem, and we continue to not talk about it.

"People who are pro-choice, and who will be voting to repeal the Eighth ... they still say to me: 'I don't know anyone who has had an abortion'. I'm like: 'Yeah, you do'... it's just something that's not talked about."

The woman, who says she understands why some people are "uncomfortable" about the issue, added: "It's something that nobody goes in thinking: 'Oh sure, whatever, I'll just get one this weekend, and maybe another one next month, who knows'.

"I just think it's a very old-fashioned view of women - that we are not to be trusted, that we can't make up our own minds."

She said if the Irish public does not vote in favour of change: "It would seriously make me question whether ever I'd move back to Ireland."

Another Irish woman, who went to Italy for an abortion when she was in her second year of university, said travelling alone was "a very lonely and isolating experience".

The woman, now in her late 30s, said: "Anything that you experience that's physically and emotionally challenging, you just want to be able to curl up in your own house, in your own bed, and be surrounded by your friends and family, and you really don't feel that when you're away."

Now based in London, she said she is "furious" that Irish women still have to go through what she experienced, adding: "For me it's really emblematic of women's reproductive rights overall, and the position of women in Irish society, and I really feel like I could never move back to this country if that doesn't change."