Last month, I attended an event in Cork City organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign, writes Louise O’Neill.
It was a workshop aimed at helping pro-choice activists feel more confident about going door-to-door canvassing in the run up to the referendum in May (yes, people of Clonakilty, be prepared to see my hopeful face at your front door).
It was a lovely day – informative, interesting, energised – and it struck me once again how great the disparity is between how the Repeal movement has been represented in the media and that which I have encountered in real life. It has never seemed elitist or militant to me. Most people within Repeal are passionate, yes, but kind and inclusive as well.
At the workshop there was a huge emphasis on respect, on the importance of being polite even if someone is abusive to you. We’re not trying to browbeat anyone; we just want to have an open, honest dialogue about the reality of abortion in Ireland today.
Irish women have always had abortions. They always will have abortions. Forcing them to travel in order to avail of those services is not going to change that fact; it merely reinforces a class divide where women from low-income areas are unable to afford to ‘get the boat’.
It’s ironic that Repeal has been accused of only catering for white, middle-class women when the anti-choice side seems to disregard the fact that those disproportionately impacted by the eighth amendment are women of colour, migrant women, and women from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
This is only one of many myths that surround the campaign. Leading up to the referendum, I think there are some important points that need to be addressed.
- I have seen some men proclaim they are not going to vote in the referendum because it has ‘nothing to do with us’. This may be an attempt at solidarity but I implore you, we need you to vote. If you believe abortion has nothing to do with you, and that you shouldn’t have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body, you are pro-choice. Vote accordingly.
- We are not voting on legislation, this referendum is only about repealing the eighth amendment. I would urge you to read the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly if you want to see how untenable the eighth has become, and how dangerous its existence is for women’s lives. Their very survival could be at risk, as in the case of Savita Halappanavar; while the amendment also hampers doctors’ ability to provide life-saving treatment. This cannot continue.
- It is unfortunate that the anti-choice side continues to use images of full- term babies to frighten voters. 95% of abortions are carried out before 12 weeks, so-called ‘late-term abortions’ only occur when something has gone tragically wrong and the mother is in dire need of urgent medical intervention. It is important to deal with facts during this campaign, not scare-mongering.
- It isn’t just young white women who are in favour of repealing. Kathy Darcy of Rebels4Choice told me that the majority of people who approach her at street stalls are usually older men and women who have seen the effects of the eighth amendment during their lifetimes and are determined that it be removed.
- Something else to note — most women who require abortions have been using contraception, but it failed. There is no form of contraception that is 100% effective, and the ones that come the closest are often prohibitively expensive, once again raising the issue of how class and reproductive health intersect.
- Countries that provide abortion care have, interestingly enough, lower rates of abortion. (This is likely because they will also have better sex education and information about contraception). If you are afraid that repealing the eighth amendment will ‘open the floodgates’ to women having abortions during their lunch hour for fun (side note – have you ever met a human woman?),, this is something to bear in mind.
- It has been distressing to see the anti-choice side exploit photos of children with disabilities, and Down Syndrome Ireland has released a very clear statement that they don’t want people using these images as a political bargaining chip. It is distasteful, infantilising to those with disabilities who are well able to speak for themselves, and most importantly — it is incorrect. Expert research shows the statistics given by the anti-choice side regarding rates of Down syndrome in Iceland are false and misleading. This referendum is an important one. It is a time of reckoning for the people of this country, a time for us to decide what sort of Ireland we want to live in. This is our chance to make an attempt at reparations to all the women who have been caught in the steel traps of our history, the women in the mother and baby homes, those in the Magdalene laundries, the single mothers who were ostracised from society. The 12 women a day who take a flight or a ferry to another country, heavy with the knowing that Ireland has turned its back on them when they needed help. To all these women, I say — I am sorry. I will vote to repeal the eighth amendment in May. We will bring you home again.
I binged the West Cork podcast on Audible in two days. Dealing with the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder in Schull, it’s incredibly compelling, measured, and will make you re-evaluate everything you think you know about that December night in 1996. This is a must-listen podcast.
How I Lose You by Kate McNaughton. Astonishingly, this is McNaughton’s debut novel, and a deftly written one at that. A love story told backwards, it’s moving and tender and surprising.
- Louise O’ Neill is the author of Only Ever Yours and Asking For It.