On Saturday, September 26th, the sun shone down on Dublin City, Ireland.
A large crowd began to gather in the Garden of Remembrance, the air was electric.
It felt like the calm before a storm.
The Garden of Remembrance is a memorial garden in Dublin City Centre dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom, and is the site where many organisations gather before marching through the city. This march was organised by Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland. It was the fourth annual march they have organised, and many pro-choice people were gathering to march to repeal the 8th Amendment from the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland.
The 8th amendment was brought into effect on the 7th of September, 1983 after a referendum which asked the Irish people to vote on Ireland's abortion laws. The amendment says that:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
This means that, by law, no woman in Ireland can avail of an abortion, under any circumstances, as the right of the life of the unborn, equates to the life of the mother.
In accordance with this law, any woman who has an illegal abortion can face up to 14 years in prison as abortion is a criminal offence in this country.
No one under the age of 50 has ever had the right or opportunity to vote on abortion in Ireland. No one of childbearing age in Ireland has ever had a say on their own reproductive rights.
We brand Irish women who have had abortions as criminals, regardless of their reasoning or need to have their abortions. But of course, this is not reality. Women who have abortions are NOT criminals. They are very simply women who made a decision for themselves to benefit their own lives in the long run. Some may call them selfish, but to make such a huge and scary decision such as getting an abortion takes a lot of guts, and any woman that makes that big decision to look after herself, can only be praised.
Before the march began, there were speeches. The first speech came from Tara Flynn. Tara is an Irish actress, comedian and writer. She has also had an abortion, and she shared her brave, and eye-opening story with the public the week previously in The Irish Times. Her story was brutally honest, and drew a lot of attention.
But the main thing many people took from her story, was she was not the first woman to go through this, and she will not be the last.
Tara was the first person to speak, and she opened the proceedings in the perfect way:
“My name is Tara Flynn, I had an abortion, I'm not a murderer, I'm not a criminal, I'm not a vessel. I am an Irish woman.”
Tara went on to mention that when she said “Irish woman” she wanted us to realise she was “including and recognising women of all nationalities living in Ireland, as well as trans-men, and any other person who may need to avail of an abortion.” It was something so important and vital to mention, and it received a huge round of applause.
Tara went on to explain her situation at the time. “I was forced to travel for medical care I needed,” she said. She continued, saying “This is the story of women in Ireland who have been ignored,” and she went on to explain how.
“No one should have to tell their story, but I'm glad I did,” she said. At this stage, everyone was feeling the emotions. You never come across Irish women who are willing to share their abortion stories. It is still seen as a taboo here, as something we keep quiet. But to hear that Tara felt glad that she had shared her story was so powerful.
The next speaker was Mandy La Combre of the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th. During her speech she announced that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has taken a position in supporting the repeal of the 8th amendment.
And in her words “That's a big win guys!”
The trade union movement has 800,000 members in the North and South of Ireland. This IS massive!
We also heard from Mara Clarke of the Abortion Support Network--an organisation that helps women who want to have abortions by raising money for women who want to travel, as well as providing advice and help in any way possible. She began her speech, sharing the mindset of us all. “I'd say I was happy to be here again, but frankly, I'm pretty fucking furious about it,” she said. She went on to explain exactly what the Abortion Support Network does, adding, “We don't ask women how they got pregnant, we don't ask women why they want an abortion, we don't even ask them if they're WOMEN (another nod to the transgender community of Ireland, and again, very importantly so) because we don't judge people who want abortions.”
Next to speak was Annie Hoey of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). If a rousing speech was what you came to the March for Choice for, then Annie Hoey delivered! She not only gave her opinion on abortion, she also gave us hard facts. “The current legislation makes abortion a class issue and inherently, inaccessible to students,” she said. She also reminded us of the importance of only voting for parties who promise to commit to repeal the 8th amendment. saying, “I believe the government must commit to holding a referendum. If they don’t, don’t you dare give them your vote.”
Finally, we heard from Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. who arrived to the march as self- appointed secular bishops, and who insisted on absolving us of patriarchy.
They reminded us that we are “the moral agents of our own bodies.” They spoke about the Pope's recent comments about offering women who have had abortions “absolution.” The Pope had announced that women would now be able to able to receive absolution from parish priests, whereas before they had to go directly to a bishop.
The ladies from Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A responded perfectly, saying, “We do not need absolution from people who have conducted such brutal violence against women,” alluding to the church-run mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries of the past.
And with the speeches finished, the march began.
An estimated 10,000 of us took off marching through the streets of Dublin City Centre. Along with all of the very clever and eye catching posters, banners and placards, there were some fantastic chants.
“What are we feeling? Repealing!”
“Not the church. Not the state. Women must decide their fate.”
This was my first March for Choice, and I will admit I was worried, worried about the backlash we would face, and wondering if there was a counter protest from those on the anti-choice side.
But thankfully, we experienced the exact opposite.
Car, bus and taxi drivers beeping their support, people in top of an open top double decker bus cheering us on. Men from outside pubs clapping and cheering as we went past, shouting support. “It’s about bloody time too!” one of them shouted. People who were possibly too busy to march in the parade still took the time to stop and applaud us as we marched through Dublin City Centre. I felt proud of what we were doing, and the support was fantastic.
We marched through Dublin City Centre, and on to Merrion Square, where the final part of the march took place, Here, 10,000 of us arrived to a stage of speakers and photographers from national news outlets. First we heard from Colm O' Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International in Ireland—a very important figure to have at the March for Choice, and a very determined person to have on the side of pro-choice. He reminded us how all Amnesty International members around the world are supporting our call to repeal the 8th Amendment in Ireland, and he also remind us of the statistics that are very hard to forget: 12 women leave Ireland daily, to have an abortion abroad, 4000 women a year leave their family and friends behind to travel to the UK or elsewhere to avail of abortion services, 177000 women since 1971 have been turned away by Ireland, and have had to travel for the medical services they need.
Our laws criminalise, stigmatise, and traumatise women and girls. Our sisters, our mothers, our friends, our daughters. It's time that we stood, finally to demand respect for their rights. We can't wait. Enough is enough.
Next we heard from Clare Daly, an independent TD who is one of the most passionate TD's working towards repealing the 8th amendment. “The move to repeal the 8th amendment, the biggest barrier to the delivery of abortion rights in this country, has now become an unstoppable force,” she said. She went on to remind us that, “Today is a day of pride, a day of confidence, a day where we reclaim this country for the women of Ireland.”
We also had speeches from Valerie Molay, a representative from the migrant support group, Akidwa; Eileen Flynn of the Irish Traveller Movement; Sinead Redmond of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services Ireland (AIMS); Mary Favier from Doctors For Choice; Emma Campbell of Alliance for Choice; and Justine Murphy of the Abortion Rights Campaign.
Look at that list and tell me there isn't an appetite from ALL walks of life to repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland. Look at this entire account of the day, from all the speakers, to the 10,000+ who marched, to the people on the street who showed their support. There is a huge call to repeal the 8th Amendment in the country, to improve the lives of women and trans men both young and old, and to give them the right to have a say over their own reproductive rights.
Because of the 8th Amendment, Irish women are treated as second-class citizens.
This is why we marched.
We marched, not only to call for a repeal of the 8th amendment by our government, but to let every single Irish woman who has had, or who will have an abortion know that they are NOT a criminal, that they are NOT alone, and that thousands of people, all over the country support them and their decision.