March. March, I beg of you

I know that most of you are horrified by the stories detailing the atrocities that women have been subjected to over the last 100 years, writes Louise O’Neill

March. March, I beg of you

he March for Choice is on September 30. Organised by the incredible Abortion Rights Campaign, thousands of men and women will gather at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin at 2pm on that Saturday; all hoping that this will be the last year that we have to do so.

I won’t be among them this year, unfortunately, as I will be in Liverpool for a family engagement. It seems especially poignant to be in Liverpool, a city that has welcomed so many Irish women over the years.

Irish women who have been exiled from these shores, their little ‘problem’ exported to Britain because we don’t help desperate women here. Not here. This is a Catholic country.

I cannot march for my reproductive rights this year but I am asking you to go in my place. I believe in you. I believe in the Irish people. I believe we are compassionate, that most people in this country are intrinsically good.

I know that most of you are horrified by the stories detailing the atrocities that women have been subjected to over the last 100 years as their bodies and their wombs were declared the property of the state.

I know that, each of us in our way, is attempting to throw off the shackles of the past and forge a new path for Ireland.

We want to create a future that will finally fulfil the ambitions of the men and women of the 1916 Rising who envisioned an Ireland that ‘guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens’.

Until women have full bodily autonomy then those hopes will continue to go unsatisfied. How can we say we are equal when there is no medical procedure that an Irish man would have to travel for in order to avail of it?

If you do decide to march, I promise you that it will be an experience you will never forget. If you haven’t attended the march before, let me try and alleviate any reservations you might have. I have heard anti-choice people call the Repeal movement ‘militant’.

That has not been my experience. I have found kindness and compassion in the movement; I have encountered women and men who have such a keen sense of fairness that they cannot allow this untenable situation to continue.

I have met people with such an overwhelming sense of empathy that even if they are personally uncomfortable with the idea of having a termination, they understand that they have no right to control another person’s life choices.

Some have called the movement elitist and yet, when I have spoken with leaders from the Abortion Rights Campaign and the Repeal Project, the first thing they mention is how abortion is a class issue, and how it disproportionally affects homeless women, women in direct provision, and those from working class backgrounds. The March has always felt inclusive, welcoming, and oddly joyful.

The sense of solidarity as you take to the streets is incredible; the refusal to accept any attempt to silence you leaves you feeling almost invincible.

It’s so easy to feel powerless these days, the world morphing into a strange, almost unrecognisable place before our eyes. But we cannot allow ourselves to be paralysed by fear. The time for apathy and inaction is gone. We must stand up and have our voices heard.

So, march on the September 30. March if you are a man or if you are a woman, because until all of us are equal than none of us are.

March regardless of your age, your race, or your religion.

March for your sisters and march for your friends and march for your colleagues who might one day be faced with a decision that they never wanted to make.

March for your mothers who were told that contraception was a sin and who were expected to birth child after child after child until their bodies were tired and broken.

March for the women who dared express their sexuality and who were thrown into laundries and Mother and Baby homes; for their stories are the direct ancestors to the Eighth Amendment today.

March for the woman with too many children and not enough money, the woman who is running out of options.

March for Sheila Hodgers, who died in 1983 because she was denied vital cancer treatment while pregnant. March for the 13-year-old girl who was raped in 1992 and whom the Attorney General tried to prevent leaving this country to procure an abortion.

March for Savita Halappanavar who died crying out for someone to save her life. March for the family of the brain-dead woman who was kept artificially alive over Christmas 2014 because of a foetus in her womb.

March for the asylum seeker who arrived in this country pregnant as a result of being raped and who was forced on hunger strike out of desperation.

March for every couple who is told that a fatal foetal abnormality has been detected but that they cannot get the medical care they need in their own country.

March for every woman who knows they do not have the capacity — whether it’s emotional, physical, or financially — to rear a child and who makes the most judicious decision in their own circumstances.

March because you trust women. And march for your daughters who might one day come to you, crying and pale faced because of an accident, oh, and accidents happen so easily, don’t they? What will you say to your child when she asks you where you were when the people took to the streets begging for decency to prevail?

March. Get the bus or the train or walk, just get to the Garden of Remembrance for 2pm on September 30.

Ignore the weather, whatever the day might bring. As the author Dave Rudden said last year: “We are walking in the rain to support thousands of women who have to face an ocean.”

Just march. March, I beg you.

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