As incredible as the vote on the 25th May was, it is a far cry from the care people need and deserve (Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire)

A year ago today, Ireland voted by an overwhelming majority to repeal the Eighth Amendment (which imposed a near total ban on abortion) from its Constitution, paving the way for abortion services to be offered on request in early pregnancy.

The result was monumental. Not only did it enable the roll-out of services across the country in less than a year, it sent a powerful message: that the Irish public respected women and pregnant people’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.

For years, countless dedicated individuals had campaigned to change Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. And organisations like ours had been supporting people who were forced to travel to another jurisdiction to access healthcare they should have received at home.

Those without the money or means to pay for flights to the UK. Those who often resorted to desperate and dangerous measures to no longer remain pregnant before finding out about Abortion Support Network (ASN) and the support we can offer.

We’re still getting those calls. Still helping those people. Because as incredible as the vote on the 25th May was, it is a far cry from the care people need and deserve. And it’s a very far cry from making ASN redundant.

Ireland’s new legislation leaves many behind. There is a stigmatising and non evidence-based mandatory waiting period, sparse provision in certain parts of the country, doctors interpreting the law overly cautiously for fear of criminal sanctions. And a cut-off period of less than 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The problems with the new law were stressed persistently before it came into effect. We are not a campaigning organisation but our founder Mara Clarke even wrote to the Irish Health Minister and warned him of all the people this legislation would create additional barriers for – homeless people, those without EU passports, people with disabilities, those in abusive relationships, parents. The list goes on.

Sadly, these concerns weren’t listened to and people who fall through the cracks of the new system are still being forced to travel. And they’re not the only ones.

Despite the fact that it is part of the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland abortion is prohibited in almost all circumstances – and punishable by life imprisonment. To contextualise, the Northern Irish law is even more restrictive than the proposals we’ve seen come out of Alabama in recent weeks.

People in Northern Ireland who find themselves pregnant when they don’t want to be are forced to either travel across the Irish sea or over the Irish border (where they face the three-day waiting period, inconsistent provision and a €450 fee).

We don’t need a referendum to change this. Westminster has the power – more than that, a duty – to act and extend abortion provision to Northern Ireland without delay. The Irish Government too, has a responsibility to provide accessible and affordable abortion services to people in Northern Ireland. To paraphrase a popular hashtag, the time is long overdue for NI.

When thinking about the changes between last year and now, a few things stick out. ASN is seeing less clients from Ireland and have been able to extend services to people in Malta and Gibraltar, where abortion is also extremely restricted. That said, we are dealing with more complex cases since the referendum. People needing more support and more funding. Which is why we’re incredibly grateful to every person who donates or fundraises for us.

To end on a positive, when people reach out to us for help now, they appear less apologetic about exercising their right to basic healthcare.

The enduring stigma surrounding abortion, which made many feel like they had to excuse or apologise for their choices, seems to have eroded somewhat since last May. And that is incredibly powerful. Now when clients contact us, they simply say ‘I need an abortion. Can you help me?’ And we can. And we will. For as long as we’re needed.