Reflect on repeal movement through new book

Picture: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

A new anthology book offers a deeply compassionate and powerful insight into the movement to repeal the 8th Amendment. Ciara McDonnell talks to its editor, Una Mullally.

UNA Mullally has always been interested in social justice. The award-winning journalist and activist is well-known for using her column inches as a vehicle for change, and her new book Repeal The 8th, an anthology of work created by some of the most prolific feminist voices both here and abroad, is no different.

“I have always been irritated by anything to do with inequality and I have always found myself overly emotional about these kinds of issues,” she says from her Dublin home.

“I guess when you are writing opinion columns you get an opportunity to air those grievances about society and it’s a natural progression to try to move on and effect change a little more than just writing about it. It’s a zeitgeist thing in some ways too, that I was coming of age when there was a third wave of feminism and I was able to articulate how I related to the world as a woman more.”

Her first book, In The Name Of Love, was an oral history of the movement towards marriage equality in Ireland and was a great example of the kind of writing Mullally excels at — an illustration of a new kind of activism and a portrait of social change in Ireland.

Una says that she feels it is important to highlight social change, rather than criticise it. “I often get quite frustrated by journalists who write quite negatively about things that people are trying to do that are positive. You see it all the time; people talking things down. My approach has been more to activate things in real life. That could be overstating it as well — maybe I’m just emotional.”

Repeal The 8th is published by Unbound, who finance their books by crowdsourcing. Writer Louise O’Neill introduced Una to the publishers, who were interested in publishing something on the repeal of the 8th amendment. Mullally says that the way it has been financed speaks to the nature of the movement.

“I think for this particular project it really works because it is representing a movement in a kind of unusual way, and I suppose people wanting to hear those voices and preserve them.

“There is something really nice about the fact that it was crowd funded and that it is by an eclectic bunch of writers.”

And what a bunch of writers it is. The book features contributions from some of the most impressive and noteworthy writers of the moment, including Anne Enright, Tara Flynn, Lisa McInerney, Caitlin Moran and Louise O’Neill.

Cailtlin Moran
Cailtlin Moran

“The diversity of contributions was deliberate, says Una.

“I think that what I wanted to do was not have the book be a collection of a lot of the rhetoric we have heard on abortion before. I wanted it to be quite literary and, I wanted to include people’s stories but I was also really mindful that there are a lot of really amazing projects and initiatives out there that are already collating people’s stories.”

With a desire to create a collection of work that was not preachy or worthy or polemic, Mullally set out a wish list of contributors, and luckily, most said yes.

“I wanted there to be people like Anne Enright who is so amazing and I knew that she would offer clarity of thought on the issue that maybe nobody else could. What she actually did was just that in a way that I had never thought about before, which is an amazing feat, considering how much we have all talked about abortion already.”

As well as existing pieces that touched on themes of bodily autonomy like Emmet Kirwin’s poem Heartbreak and Laundry by Mary Coll and History Lesson by Elaine Feeney, Mullally sought out original pieces, specific to the book.

“People went and wrote these amazing pieces and the result is a mixture of pieces from all around the country by different voices and in different forms.

“I wanted to include a lot of the design and photography and graphic design and then to collaborate with Ana Cosgrave on the special edition cover because that simple thing that she has done (with the Repeal movement) has become so iconic.”

What does Una want to effect with the publication of Repeal The 8th?

“I think that one of the things that we lose when it comes to social movements is a lot of the creativity that happens around them, and that social movements are creative in their essence. They are trying to invent something new, and that in itself is creative.”

In the future, she hopes that people will look at this book as a time capsule of this moment in Ireland.

“We do see history in a very linear way and what I am more interested in is the sometimes conflicting thoughts around that and how people try to express themselves at that particular time in a particular country about this particular issue.

“I would like people to pick it up in years to come and reflect on what that time was and how people made their way out of it.”

‘I’ll never be embarrassed, regretful or ashamed of having had an abortion’

- HELEN LINEHAN - a personal story from Repeal the 8th

A couple of years ago, I told my abortion story publicly.

I’m really not the type to draw attention to myself, but I felt I had to.

I’m not embarrassed or regretful, although there are many people who would believe that I should be.

Abortion is awful. Necessary and awful. It’s needed, but never wanted.

Nobody wants it. When I had mine, it was after the twelve-week scan.

The radiologist detected a skeletal problem and, after a more detailed, internal scan, the diagnosis was very bad.

I didn’t know how lucky I was.

Sounds weird, I know, but this was in the UK. I was treated with compassion and offered counselling after the pregnancy was terminated.

If I had been in Ireland, I would have had no option but to continue with the pregnancy, despite knowing that while the baby would grow in my womb, it would not survive birth.

My husband and I shared our story with Amnesty’s campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment in Ireland to give women a choice and, ultimately, the rights over their own bodies. I went on TV. I was at press conferences. I went on Channel 4 news with Cora Sherlock, an anti-choice campaigner.

When I talked about my experience she said, ‘But what about the baby?’

I felt it was best not to engage with her. I was ready for a backlash on Twitter and Facebook.

Surprisingly, I had an overwhelming reaction of support and outrage that laws like the Eighth Amendment exist.

Not many people knew about it. I also had many personal stories sent to me. I have some trolls.

Some people find solace in sending me diagrams of the abortion procedure.

Another stranger on Facebook asked me, ‘Would you murder me, Helen?’

The problem is that nobody wants to talk about it, but it’s here. It’s always here.

Whatever your beliefs, women always have had, and will continue to have, abortions.

Whether it’s abortions for medical reasons or for unwanted pregnancy, women need this choice.

I swear, if men could have babies, there’d be an abortion app. I was a bit shy and embarrassed, being on the news and telling my story to the press, but I’ll never be embarrassed, regretful or ashamed of having had an abortion and neither should anyone who has to go through it.

For whatever reason.

- Repeal The 8th is published by Unbound on April 5 and is available from all good bookstores for €12.99.

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