I have other things to be writing today. I have more thoughts about Dumbledore – even after the shitshow that was the new Fantastic Beasts film. There’s an essay I need to write to get another scholarship cheque, and I’ve programs to write up for work, and y’know a masters dissertation to write at some point. But today, I am too angry to write any of that. Because the Dáil is debating Ireland’s post-referendum abortion legislation. So, brace yourself folks, it’s time for another abortion rant. Specially, about how very DONE I am with politicians. Particularly, Simon Harris.
For those of you who don’t spend their free hours watching Oireachtas TV, here’s a *brief* summary of where we’re at:
- 6 months ago, 1,429,981 people voted to remove the 8th Amendment from the Constitution (YAY!)
- Since then, court challenges meant legislation couldn’t be introduced into the Oireachtas before the summer recess.
- Simon Harris, health minister, introduced draft legislation in the autumn.
- The legislation is flawed – a good summary of issues with it can be found from the Abortion Rights Campaign (here).
- The legislation is right now in ‘report stage’ – meaning a bunch of amendments were suggested at the Health Committee, and they’re being discussed and voted on now. Lawyers for Choice have lots of good resources on what the process is and how it’s going (here)
In so many ways, it’s completely mad that we’re here at all. I think if you’d asked most pro-choice activists in 2013 if they thought we’d have legislation for abortion access up to 12 weeks in the Dáil within 5 years, they’d have laughed at you. But phenomenal activists across the country fought and fought and we won Repeal. And that was HARD. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to adequately explain what people went through to get this vote over the line. But we did. And many activists have been taking a well-deserved break from the fight. I’m glad they have. We deserve a break. Problem is, while we stepped back to rest and heal, politicians are back to being politicians. And I’m fucking DONE with politicians.
One of my personal lessons from the campaign was solidifying just how much I *really* don’t like politicians. Even ones who’s views and politics I agree with. I hate the ‘game’ of politics. I hate the emphasis on looking like you’re doing the right thing while not actually doing anything about it. Post-referendum, a bunch of women I know are going to be running for office. Honestly – they’re all amazing activists and advocates for social change and I wish them every success. But the thing is, I almost hope they don’t succeed. Because I’m SO done with politicians. Politicians didn’t do this. We did this, all 1429981 voters, all the women who opened their hearts and told their truth, all the people who got sidelined or ignored because of ‘optics’ and still gave their fucking all anyway, all the people who knocked on their neighbour’s doors because they knew no one else was going to. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t hurt that the major political parties were onside (mostly). But we would have done this without them. Sure, we might have had to invoke Plan B and start a revolution, but that option is looking increasingly appealing right now.
Onto Simon Harris. He’s gotten a LOT of good press out of the referendum. There were a lot of (honestly cringeworthy) pictures and tweets about women suddenly finding him ridey after the ref. He seems to be the under the impression that this means pro-choice people all love him – he even came to the March for Choice afterparty, which was just weird. Before the referendum, Fine Gael politicians were talking about making abortion ‘safe legal and rare’. ARC wrote a good piece on the problems with that ‘rare’ part, as well as about why they fight for ‘free safe legal’. And, bizarrely, Harris now seems to have taken that on board. He keeps talking about making abortion free safe and legal. Minister for Health offering us everything we’ve asked for? We should be celebrating, right? Well no. Because, as always with politicians, the devil is in the detail.
The legislation currently being debated (which I’ve muted, to stop myself yelling at the TV) won’t mean that abortion safe and legal. Bizarrely, it looks like it will be free – who would have thought that it would be easy to get Fine Gael to put money into public services – but that isn’t enough. The legislation is full of restrictions and regulations that will cause real damage to the people who need abortions in Ireland. There will still be a criminal penalty of 14 YEARS for providing or assisting with an abortion outside the provisions of the Bill. That doesn’t make abortion legal. The WHO has consistently pointed out that criminalisation of abortion is *bad* law and has a negative effect on reproductive health – as well as of course stigmatising abortion as something that is inherently bad. We’ll be in a situation where you can get 5-10 years for serial rape, but 14 years if you help someone get abortion pills, or if a doctor performs an abortion past 12 weeks without a serious risk to health. You can bet this is going to make doctors VERY reluctant.
And then there’s “conscientious objection” – or refusal to provide care because you don’t agree with abortion. That’s lead to women DYING in Italy – recently as well. It’s probably going to be the biggest barrier to care in Ireland, and we’re not talking about it enough. With the threat of prosecution, you can bet there will be some ‘convenient objectors’ who will refuse to provide abortion care because it doesn’t seem worth it.
There will be a medically unnecessary 3 day waiting period, requiring two doctors visits – this will make abortion harder to access for all kinds of people, but particularly those on low incomes, those in precarious employment, those in Direct Provision, people experiencing domestic violence – and it’s paternalistic patronising BULLSHIT that no one in any of the goddamn committees or reviews or assemblies has suggested at all. It’s been shown to act as another barrier to abortion – and barriers to medical care always make medical care unsafe. This is probably the one that annoys me the most – because it it is *only* in the bill because of politics. At some point, Simon Coveney – another FG Simon, where do they find them – got cold feet about the whole referendum, and wanted assurances that abortion wasn’t going to be available on demand. And so, we’ve ended up with a mandatory waiting period. There’s no other reason – just someone wanting to save face and show that they pushed back and got something in exchange. Just politics. And it’s going to hurt people who need abortions.
You’d think, with all these parts of the bill making abortion unsafe and illegal, that Simon Harris would appreciate the chance to amend it and make it free safe legal, just like he keeps saying. He’s not though. When the chance came up to mitigate or remove these problematic elements, he’s refused to entertain any of them. He was questioned by a number of TDs on the rationale behind the waiting period and didn’t even bother trying to come up with an answer – he just said “it was in the draft, so it’s staying suckers” (alright, I’m paraphrasing). Plenty of TDs pointed out that it was only there to placate Coveney. But because politics is like some twisted game of Simon Says, we’re stuck with a medically unnecessary regulation, to let someone save face. And Simon Harris is going to keep saying how important this bill is for women’s health and rights and all that, getting himself some nice quotes and looking like a sane person in comparison to Mattie et al, all the while choosing to ignore medical best practice and international recommendations for abortion access. Talking the talk is great and all, Simon, but we don’t need words. We need to be allowed to make our own decisions about our bodies without unnecessary barriers. Free Safe Legal means as early as possible and as late as necessary, for anyone who needs or wants it. On demand, without apology and without restriction.
But after the joy and pain and everything that was the referendum, it seems like we’re back to the politicians not wanting to talk to us. I know several great pro-choice orgs have tried REALLY hard to make this bill better and it’s like running into a brick wall. We’re back to politics as usual, and that means lengthy dehumanising debates about our bodies without listening to our voices.
I am so tired and frustrated and worn out from all of this. But mostly, my over-riding feeling is anger. I am so angry. Anyone who knows me well knows that my inner superhero is the Hulk. Because I am *always* angry. It’s a double edged sword. Sometimes my anger drives me to fight for things I care about. Sometimes I end up getting angry at myself for things that I can’t control. Once, my anger turned all the way in and led to a rather serious bout of depression. I learned a lot of lessons then too. I don’t keep my anger in any more. I can’t afford to, it turns out it literally does kill me. So I’ve spent my afternoon listening to P!nk (don’t judge me, it’s my angry teenage girl music) and writing and rewriting this, and later I’m going to go down and yell outside the Dáil because I just don’t know what else to do right now. Tomorrow, I’ll pick myself up and do yoga or mindfulness or some of this shit that I know I should to keep myself on an even keel. But today, I am angry at politicians who care more about optics than actually making things better for women in this country. Today I am angry at people who will say “abortion should be free safe and legal” while insisting on criminal sanctions and medically unsafe barriers. Waiting periods aren’t safe. Criminalising doctors isn’t legal. Fuck you Simon Harris, for hearing the words but not what they mean. Fuck you.