“Repeal Project seeks to vindicate the rights of Irish women by reflecting , respecting and representing the need and want for free safe and legal access to abortion in Ireland. Making it seen that this issue needs to be heard. ”
— Repeal Project
Ireland is a country to be proud of. We are a nation of musicians and poets, of writing titans and big thinkers. We are a country with freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of press, an educated and eloquent nation that elects female heads of states and votes to legalise same-sex marriage with admirable style and panache. We do, however, have something to be ashamed of. A dirty secret. An archaic sheep in our otherwise progressive flock. We have the 8th Amendment.
The 8th Amendment of Ireland is a constitutional ban on abortion. This ban exists in all circumstances, including those of rape, incest and foetal abnormality. It is a startling and painful truth that below the surface of modern Ireland, beneath the magic, the craic and the charm, buried deep in the basement, behind the boxes marked “Employment Equality” and “Celtic Tiger”, exists a law that actively endangers women, a rule that can tie our hands behind our backs and leave us staring down the barrel of a gun. When it comes to our reproductive systems we currently enjoy the same rights as the women of Haiti, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. That is to say, without the threat of imminent death, we have none.
Ireland is a country that has modernised with a galloping speed. The right to legal divorce was granted in 1996. That we voted to legalise same-sex marriage not 20 years later shows the dazzling ability that Irish people have to open their hearts, to embrace equality and effect change. In the not so distant past such opportunities for change were forcibly strangled by the Catholic Church, that wolf in sheep’s clothing whose regulatory policies spilled into every part of Irish life. Ireland woke up to this years ago, blessedly realising that the views of one organised religion did not, in fact, have to be accepted unquestioned, as gospel. Today we are free to shape our own future, to have a dynamic government in place of papal puppetry, to implement policies using a human conscience for guidance. We are free to hold referenda and promote public debate. Furthermore, we are free to grant the women of Ireland autonomy over our bodies and our futures. So why haven’t we done it yet?
In 2009 I was preparing to sit my Leaving Cert. As part of the English exam we were required to write a debate speech on the topic of our choice. The only topic we were discouraged from choosing – abortion. While there was no attempt to influence our thinking on the matter itself, it was made clear that to choose this topic carried serious risks. To write in favour of abortion could cause grave offence to our examiners, which could compromise our final grades. This well intended piece of advice shocked precisely no one. The fact that abortion was a conversational grenade, a topic firmly filed under the heading of “inflammatory things – avoid discussing”, was general knowledge. This fear of causing offence, of rocking the morality boat, is what I believe to be the very thing that has prevented modern Ireland from amending this primitive policy. Until now.
The Repeal The 8th movement is big. It’s vocal, it’s visible and it is gathering momentum with a velocity that makes my heart sing. There is a petition, an artists campaign, a media campaign, a social enterprise and countless other spokes to this ever widening umbrella. My hope is that it continues to grow, successfully convincing even those who would never choose the option that the choice should exist. When I think of Ireland, our small, rainy little island, busting with colour, character and creativity, my sense of national pride goes through the roof. Were the 8th Amendment to be successfully repealed, it would spiral into orbit. Ireland could truly look itself in the eye and say out loud what I believe to be true at our heart; we are a progressive and humane nation that respects the rights and choices of women. This is an incredible time to be Irish, to be a part of something momentous, to support the rollicking fight for reproductive freedom, putting us on an even keel with the rest of the developed world. This is the time to address those final, lingering pieces of oppression, before sitting back and admiring the view. Once they are consigned to our history, what remains will be spectacular.
Image credit: Stellar.ie