As a non-resident immigrant living in the US, we had limited political agency (I retained overseas voting rights for the UK, my husband was wholly politically disenfranchised) – and we were specifically warned about getting “too involved” in anything political by our relocation team. At times, as you may imagine, this was incredibly frustrating – especially during the global clusterfuck that was 2016. So one of the things I promised myself when I moved back to Ireland was that I would get involved in the causes that matter to me. One of those things – and the one I mostly yell about on the internet – is abortion rights.
For those who don’t know – abortion is largely illegal across the island of Ireland. In ROI, this is because of the 8th amendment, which acknowledges the “right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees… to defend and vindicate that right.” In NI, the Abortion Act does not apply, so their reproductive rights are restrained by legislation from 1861 *eyeroll*. In both jurisdictions, abortion is only legal to save the life of the mother (or if she is at risk of long-term serious harm in NI). As you can imagine, and as I’ve written briefly before; this is a shitshow for anyone with a uterus.
So in January, full of resolutions and whatnot, I joined the Abortion Rights Campaign in an attempt to make a difference. The timing was propitious – the Government had convened the Citizens’ Assembly to debate, among other things, the Eighth Amendment. And you know what? It turns out that when you educate people about the reality of abortion, the majority of them end up pro-choice. Which is obviously fucking great.
Except of course, for everything else. Because the electorate doesn’t tend to get clear, unbiased information about abortion, because of “balance“. Because the Citizens Assembly recommendations aren’t binding, and this all has to go into a report (due out soon) and then to an Oireachtas committee and THEN to the government and even then they don’t actually have to do anything if they don’t want to. Because the precise wording of a referendum is still undecided, and if we end up with term limits put into the fucking Constitution I will scream and never stop. Because even though our new Taoiseach has promised a referendum for next year, successive governments have a long history of kicking the can down the road on this issue, and let’s face it, I don’t trust Varadkar as far as I can throw him. Because the UN Human Rights Commission have AGAIN found that Ireland has violated the human rights of its’ pregnant citizens – twice in as many years. Because even if the Eighth gets repealed, abortion is still illegal, and still disproportionately affects those already disadvantaged by our patriarchal, capitalist society – migrants, trans and non-binary people, Travellers, people with disabilities and those without the social or economic capital to travel. Because even though this is NOT HOW THOSE LAWS SHOULD WORK, a psychiatrist still has the power to section a young girl at risk of suicide rather than sanction an abortion. And, most importantly, because 12 people a day travel for an abortion, because many order abortion pills to take at home, and fuck knows how many just have to live with their bodily autonomy being denied.
It’s exhausting to think about. But, despite the above, I’m not writing this in order to rant. A few weeks ago, I was at a fabulous fundraising event – Cabaret for Choice: Peeling for Repeal. It was brilliant, and deserves a much more comprehensive review than “brilliant”. I ended up chatting to a woman in the loo – as one does – who had fought in the 1983 referendum campaign against the 8th. She had spotted my “free safe legal” badge as I was going into a stall, and hung around to thank me as I came out. She wanted to tell me that she thought we might actually get there soon, and that we just had to keep going and not give up. She told me that we were closer than we’d ever been, and I told her that the current campaign wouldn’t be anywhere without people like her, and that we were all in this together and we hugged and she cried. It was a great moment of intergenerational pro-choice bathroom bonding, which frankly doesn’t happen often enough.
So that’s why I’m writing this. There is so much to do, people of the Internet. And we can’t do it without you. So if you’re unclear on the issues, educate yourself on the 8th – ARC wrote a great submission detailing the case for free, safe, legal abortion. Write to your TDs, meet them in person if you can. Register to vote. Get involved with a pro-choice organisation – many of those campaigning to Repeal the 8th are volunteers, and always need more people. The Abortion Rights Campaign, Parents for Choice, Doctors for Choice, Lawyers for Choice, AIMS Ireland – there’s a LOT of work to do. We need to think not just about repealing the 8th, but also about long-term reproductive justice – what kind of abortion care do we want, and what can we do to make sure that abortions are available as early as possible, and as late as necessary. Lastly, if you’ve been personally affected by the 8th – and if you think you can – share your story. As long as abortion remains in the shadows, we cannot win this fight.
And if you’re not in Ireland? Hell, if you’re in the UK, ask your MP what they’re going to do to extend abortion rights to NI – especially if they’re SNP or Labour, as both parties have talked about doing so before. Did you know NI women can’t get free abortions in GB on the NHS? They have to pay, just as ROI folks do, even though their taxes pay for the NHS. That’s a pile of horseshit, right there. Get involved with the London-Irish branch of ARC, if you can, or with Alliance for Choice who are trying to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to NI. Ireland is not the only country with an oppressive regime with regards to abortion and reproductive rights. This is a global health issue – please, help where you can.