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A MORE COMPASSIONATE IRELAND
By Lorna O’Hara
I was very close to not writing this article because right now I don’t even want to allow myself the luxury of writing, never mind the luxury of dreaming. There’s 10 days left in the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution and I can’t keep still. I’m full of nervous energy and can barely sleep, like most of the women I’ve talked to.
If you’ve read what I’ve written previously then you’ll know that the Eighth Amendment, inserted into our constitution in 1983, equates the life of foetus with that of a woman. The referendum to remove this amendment and allow our government to legislate for abortion on the 25th of May is a historic one. After 35 years and a much longer history of mistreatment and outright abuse, we are finally on the cusp of allowing women in Ireland some amount of control over their own bodies for the first time. We are finally at a point where we can begin to redress the cruelties that the Church and State have done to women in this country since the foundation of the Republic. We are finally freeing ourselves from the yoke of the Catholic Church and removing the final vestiges of its power. This is the moment that we will signal to the rest of the world that Ireland is finally making real progress, not the hollow “economic progress” of the Celtic Tiger or our so-called “recovery”, but something more real and substantial. This is what will be the true measure of our worth as a country.
We are an outlier in terms of the rest of Europe: we have some of the harshest laws on abortion, on par only with Malta. However, the “no” side of the campaign would like us to imagine that the women who have been coming forward in the run-up to the referendum with their brave stories about how the Eighth has affected them are the outliers: that they’re the rare cases and that the Eighth doesn’t tie the hands of doctors, despite clear evidence to the contrary. As I said in my last article, the Eighth affects every single pregnant woman in this country. But why I am even wasting my breath? Facts have never been the anti-choice side’s strong point. What’s more is that I’m blue in the face talking about facts. The burden of proof has clearly been on the “yes” side in this campaign. Doctors, nurses, midwives, lawyers and human rights associations have all been clear about this: making abortion illegal doesn’t stop abortion from happening. And we knew this already, we all knew this, because we all know someone who has had an abortion. And the “no” side knows this too.
I’ve been out canvassing the past week in my local area, which is a predominantly working-class area. From my own experience it looks like it’ll be a majority “yes” vote here. I’ve offered people leaflets with facts and figures, but as one woman said to me “I don’t need them; it’s perfectly easy to understand that I can’t make this choice for someone else and that’s why I’m voting yes”. And it’s as simple as that, isn’t it? Why is it so hard for some people to understand that women don’t choose an abortion like a flavour of ice cream? Why is it so hard for people to understand that while abortion may not be a choice you’d make for yourself, that you shouldn’t have the right to decide what’s best for someone else? Why is it so hard for people to extend compassion and empathy to their fellow human beings?
Now, of course I’m not saying facts and figures aren’t important, they are extremely important, especially in this campaign. We have a duty to correct the poisonous lies the “no” side are out there spreading. What I’m saying is that people in the street are smarter than we give them credit for. While the “no” side has been out trying to confuse and misinform, there are plenty of people out there that see right through them and their tactics. There are plenty of people who only need to know that they love the women in their lives and want them to be treated fairly and with compassion and the only way to do that is to remove this amendment which treats them as if they’re second-class citizens.
I keep thinking about the moment the results will be announced. I keep trying to picture in my mind where I’ll be or who’ll be around me. More often than not I’m thinking about how I’ll respond if the referendum doesn’t pass, how will I control my anger and what will I do next? How will we be able to live with the shame of what we put all those brave women who have come forward through? How will we ever be able to accept that result? No matter what way the referendum goes, there’s no way things can go back to the way they were.
I’m honestly afraid to imagine a positive outcome to this referendum. However, I do keep trying to capture what it would feel like if the “yes” side wins: what it will feel like to finally be treated like human beings in our own country, to no longer feel the weight of shame but to know that our country actually cares about us and finally recognises our humanity. But for now I can’t just sit here and dream about that, I have to try and do whatever I can to make it a reality.
Lorna O’Hara is a doctoral student and feminist activist currently living between Berlin and Dublin. Her writing and research focuses on feminist activism and art, in particular similarities/differences between international feminist groups and artistic projects that have a focus on increasing awareness about/changing violence against women and the control of women’s bodies.
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