#repealthe8th | March For Choice 2016

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The fifth annual March for Choice is just over two weeks away on Saturday, September 24th.

This year’s theme is “Rise & Repeal – a comment on the failure of our Republic to fulfil the promise of 1916″. March coordinator Linda Kavanagh says “the Easter Rising sought Sovereignty and self determination for Ireland. Today, we seek the same control over our own bodies. No longer will the Irish State force us to self-administer health care by taking abortion pills, risking a fourteen year jail term, or spend thousands of euro travelling secretly to England. This year we, the women of Ireland, with the support of all those who care about equality and human rights, are self administering our independence”.

Organisers at the Abortion Rights Campaign are extremely busy  ahead of what is likely to be a record turn out for Ireland’s largest prochoice event. I would encourage everyone to spend some time volunteering between now and the day itself. There are plenty of small ways to contribute so please click here to find out how you can get involved.

Aside from this, the best thing people can do is talk to friends, enemies, family, strangers, co-workers, team mates, book clubbers, drinking buddies and pets about attending the march itself.

On the day cheap buses will be leaving from Belfast, Galway, Cork, Sligo, Mayo, Meath and elsewhere so get in touch. Dublin people remember to factor in a potential bus strike on the day.  Saturday, September 24th – save the date now and plan ahead.

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More than  833 woman from Northern Ireland and 3400 from republic were forced to leave their home country and travel to Britain in 2015. In the coming years, women living in Ireland face having to leave the European Union itself, however, awareness and disgust at these facts continues to grow. It has been an eventful year with the 8th Amendment never far from the political agenda.  After the explosion of activity in 2012, the issue of reproductive choices in this country has slowly become mainstream.

Since Clare Daly’s bill on the X Case anniversary and particularly the death of Savita Halappanavar, reproductive rights is a question legislators increasingly expect to be asked. Many politicians remain scarred from 1980s so while their glacial progress and evasion remains completely unacceptable, the breakthrough after decades is testament to work being done.

Outside of Leinster House, conversations are happening around kitchen tables, people are attending meetings, work is happening at all levels in big and small ways. Personal and public displays of support are becoming commonplace rather than transgressive and perhaps most ubiquitous is the REPEAL jumper.

Anna Cosgrave the woman behind the idea says the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and having sold out several times says demand is “telling of how pressing this issue is and how heavy it’s weighing on those that are effected”.  The project has certainly been a huge success in terms of visibility and giving people the sense of being part of something bigger. Those interested in more t-shirts, badges and bags can visit the ARC shop.

The activist landscape has been transformed. The depth and  plurality of support that exists now is the prochoice movement’s best asset but as our numbers grow, the first and most important action is listening to the women involved in both the campaign and in your own life.

We only need look at how a small number of anti-choice activists have redoubled their efforts to shut down discussion wherever it arises. This site will be publishing a more in depth focus on this in the coming days but we should note that nothing they have done so far prevented spontaneous applause in the Rose of Tralee dome of all places.

In the North, abortion became an election issue for the first time this May after two high profile court cases dominated headlines and talk radio. In April, a 21 year old woman without means to travel received a three month suspended sentence for using the abortion pill in 2014. Showing their true colours, anti-choice groups were quick to condemn the judge’s ruling for being “unduly lenient”. Just weeks later it emerged that a second woman is facing trial for buying pills online  for her daughter.

The activist response has been swift with three women in protest handing themselves in to the PSNI for procuring pills. Kitty O’Kane, Colette Devlin and Diana King in Derry say “we feel very angry that it’s illegal. We’re angry that women are placed in this situation. That women who can afford to travel to England can have a legal abortion but women who can’t afford to travel can only access nine week abortion pills for £60. We’re very angry about that. We’re very angry that women are being criminalised”. Police inquiries remain “ongoing”.

In July, record numbers turned out for a rally for choice in Belfast. Organiser Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird believes “the increase is indicative of a growing hunger for change completely in keeping with this latest wave of feminism, not to mention the added drama of going head to head with Precious Life. Reports have stated that we outnumbered their march and that their usual upbeat character (the likes of the “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Amnesty has got to go” chanting) was nowhere to be found. I feel like we marched as the winning force and they marched as the losing force”.

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She says “the situation is so close to achieving change, so much so that I don’t believe it would be foolish at all for some of the more mainstream, liberal organisations to drop their line of pushing for incremental change. The recent action of the Derry 3 handing themselves in is what we need more of. We need to brazenly and unashamedly break the law and let them know we are doing so”.

Recent years have finally started to see increasing acknowledgement of the Northern Irish situation in Britain and it vitally important that we too in the republic continue to build links and support with women in the north.

Awareness and information about the pill continues to spread. WomenonWeb can be contacted here while Bpas have just launched further aftercare services. For separate matters and information on that neglected area of sexual and women’s health, not least in light of further exposure of rogue counselling centres,  you can contact the IFPA in confidence here.

The issue of fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis has probably been the most prominent aspect this past year with families and even several TDs continuing to talk about their experience, making it likely to be the first dealt with under any post-repeal legislation.

The work of activists from Terminations For Medical Reasons has been so crucial in highlighting the treatment of thousands of women and families under the eighth amendment.

Speaking to Gaye Edwards of TFMR about the previous twelve months she says “unfortunately people continue to receive diagnoses of Fatal Foetal Anomalies, so one of our top priorities continues to be providing emotional support for those families, by telephone, text, messaging and in group meetings. We have also been on a drive to educate people about Fatal Foetal Anomalies, destigmatise the choice to terminate such pregnancies and move closer to repeal of the eighth amendment so that practical and compassionate legislation can be put in place to allow women to be cared for in Ireland”.

Undoubtedly the biggest breakthrough for TFMR this year was founding member Amanda Mellet successfully taking a complaint against Ireland to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. “In a landmark ruling, all 18 members found that her human rights had been violated and that she had been subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as a result of Ireland’s draconian abortion laws (Mellet -v- Ireland)”.

This ruling forced an apology in the Dáil from the health minister and a typically bumbling reply from An Taoiseach who insists the ruling is “not binding”. Máiréad Enright and others say otherwise  but in any case, this will add further pressure on the same politicians that so easily excluded the D Case from legislation just four years ago.

In the short term we get Irish solutions to Irish problems. Government have promised to “make arrangements” so that “services surrounding these events and instances should be improved”, but this ham fisted at best piecemeal offering comes after women have been facing this journey for decades and not least after members of Enda Kenny’s own governments have been aware of this issues for several years.

The general election this year returned perhaps the greatest number of prochoice politicians to Dáil Éireann. At least forty or fifty openly prochoice TDs in all, perhaps more when you include pro-referendum or pro-repeal which is a very strong foundation in a parliament that lags far behind the public.

Just before the summer recess, Mick Wallace’s Bill caused plenty of trouble both within Fine Gael and at cabinet. Building on Clare Daly’s work during the previous term, we are fortunate that this stuff is occurring in parliament with some frequency because otherwise it would be very easy for politicians and by extension large parts of the media and public services to ignore.

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Enda Kenny’s coalition have established a citizens assembly that is, of course, more to do with the needs of politicians than anyone else. Government are seeking to outsource an issue they  view at best a distraction at worst nuisance. Little do they realise abortion only forms one part of campaign against the treatment of women should they become pregnant in this country.

The convention should be treated with utmost scepticism, however, it also important that anti-choice elements are not given inch in any battle. Official processes must be engaged with but as will become more and more important as we edge closer to a referendum, we should resist falling into the trap of fighting on someone else’s terms.

Contestation within the broader prochoice movement itself is likely to intensify over matters like campaigning, strategy, demands and so on. Leadership of the Yes Equality campaign have begun to acknowledge the mistakes of that referendum and it is important for people to realise that out of both necessity and practicality, many of the marriage campaign tactics should not be repeated. Be wary of anyone suggesting otherwise.

The issue of ‘balance’ as presently interpreted by the media needs to be tackled as a priority. This is not a 50/50 fight and we should not be expected to face disproportionate and scurrilous opposition on a regular bases. Broadcasters too need re-examine the format and framing  of debates and information provision in light of their own ongoing failures but especially the 2015 referendum and British media mistakes during the Brexit campaign.

When not combating outright lies and scaremongering,  the abortion debate in Ireland is already susceptible to becoming mired in legal and medical discussion where women making these decisions are often patronised if they are visible at all.

It is crucial that women’s rights are placed front and centre of every discussion and the wider campaign.  This seems bleedin obvious but just watch how quick women’s experience is sidelined.  This is what the march for choice is all about.

This is first in a number of posts between now and the march on the 24th. In the mean time you can check out a prochoice special of the Oireachtas Retort podcast available for stream and download below.

pics – Paul Reynolds


Oireachtas Retort is a space for original and occasionally incisive commentary on the relentless torment of Irish politics. If you find any of this useful, please click the brown envelope to donate!

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