On November 30th, the Belfast High Court ruled that abortion legislation in Northern Ireland “is in breach of human rights law.” People have taken issue with the legislation because it only allows a woman to get an abortion if her life or health are in danger.
Now women in the Republic of Ireland are hoping to get their politicians to make the same concession.
Thanks to the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, abortion in the Republic is only legal in cases where a woman’s life is in danger. In order to avail themselves of abortion services, many Irish women are forced to travel abroad. According to statistics provided in a June, 2014 article in the Irish Post, 12 women a day travel from Ireland to Britain to get abortions. Some arrange and finance the trip themselves, while others turn to groups such as Abortion Support Network for help financing the trip and arranging accommodation in England.
The Eighth Amendment has driven Irish women from their homes, but now groups like The X-ile Project are trying to help these women carve out a space for themselves in a country where the government has made many feel like they don’t belong, and has turned people into statistics. “We are seeking participants for an online gallery that will feature women and trans-men who have left Ireland in order to avail of abortion services,” they explain in an email interview with QFP, “In doing so, we hope to confront what we see as an identification problem between the Irish government and some factions of Irish society, and women who travel for access to abortion services.”
Project organizers offer a different analysis of the Eighth Amendment. They note that it “… does not prevent abortions, or reduce the number of women in Ireland who have abortions.” Instead, they make the argument that, “It exiles women and exports an issue that successive Irish governments have shirked.”
The project is the brainchild of Julie Morrissy, Ruth Morrissy, Paula Cullen, Laura Lovejoy and Katie O’Neil. “We want to present these women as the people they are, our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our friends and our partners,” they explain, “We believe that the images will convey the absurdity of treating such women as criminals in the Irish law.” They hope to show these women as “…more than just a statistic.”
Those behind the project have found that women ARE open to telling their stories. “The women who have come forward to participate in the X-ile gallery have been enthusiastic and supportive of our aims,” say project organizers, “They are women who also want to bring about change in Ireland and who want to live in a equal, progressive, and respectful society.” Organizers mention that some women who have been featured reached out to them only a few days after the Project’s Facebook page went live. Others were approached by Project organizers after they had gone public with their personal stories in the media, and were asked if they wanted to participate. Then, there have been other participants who were put in contact with The X-ile Project through the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment.
The women behind The X-ile Project say that the space they’re helping to create belongs to the women who participate in their photo shoots, and they mean it. “X-ile project is very much about exploring ordinary women’s stories, experiences and situations,” explain Project organizers. Participants are in control of the experience. Organizers go on to note that, “We are very much committed to the idea that the participants do not owe any kind of explanation or apology for their choice.” Participants are able to pick a location for their photo shoot. Women are given the option of including a quote with their pictures in the gallery, and they’re given a chance to share their stories, but they’re not obligated to. The power of the project is in its pictures. “We do not ask women to explain their personal situation to us,” explain Project organizers, “We only require the photograph from those who wish to participate. We do not believe that women should have to justify their choice to have an abortion.” Project organizers typically meet with participants before each photo shoot, and they say that they do find that women typically open up on their own. They mention that, “We find such immense power in those moments because it means the silence is being broken, the stigma is gone and women are free to talk about their experience knowing that they are in a safe space.”
Women are talking, and according to Project organizers, there are plenty of volunteers who are willing to help amplify their voices. Organizers say that people have approached them to help with photography and video production. Other times, there have been people who have volunteered to drive them to appointments or photo shoots. “We have been very fortunate so far with the overwhelmingly positive response we have received both from individuals and from organizations,” say organizers, but they know that this may not continue to be the case, and are prepared for any obstacles they might run into. “We may take a few knocks along the way,” they say, “but we are determined to stand up for women’s rights and do what we believe is crucial for Irish society - that is to confront the abortion issue.”
Project organizers are confident that Ireland will one day see the Eighth Amendment repealed. “It feels like there is change in the air among the Irish people,” they say, “A number of polls carried out in recent months demonstrate that the majority of Irish people are in favor of changing the abortion laws and believe that the 8th Amendment should be repealed.” They also reference the recent Marriage Referendum in Ireland as proof of the fact “…Irish people’s views have transformed from what they were in the past.”
The Irish people are speaking, but the government has yet to start listening. X-ile Project organizers point to a recent Twitter campaign which was started by Irish comedian, Gráinne Maguire, as one of many examples of times that the Irish government has chosen to turn a blind eye to a pressing issue. Maguire began tweeting her menstrual cycle to Enda Kenny, Ireland’s Prime Minister, as a means of protesting the Irish state’s stance on abortion. X-ile Project organizers note that though the campaign has gone viral, and has been reported on by news outlets all over the world, it has yet to be covered by RTE, the national Irish broadcaster.
Maguire is supportive of the work done by the X-ile Project. “I think this project is wonderful,” she says, “Anything that reminds people that the women forced to travel abroad are real people, with faces, histories, stories is so important.” Maguire continues, noting that “It's much harder to demonise people when you're forced to see them as real people.”
Irish women from all segments of society are beginning to stand up and make their voices heard, and their timing couldn't be better! The next Irish general election is around the corner, and X-ile Project organizers say that they’ve noticed that many Irish women have said that they will not vote for parties who haven’t expressed an interest in repealing the Eighth Amendment.
Right now, the X-ile Project’s two biggest obstacles are time constraints, and funding. “All of our work is done on a voluntary basis in our own free time,” they say, but mention that they have begun to investigate other possibilities for funding—including a crowdfunding campaign.
The X-ile Project hopes to have their website and gallery up and running before the end of the year, and there is no end date in sight! “We will continue to add photographs after the launch, and the project is open-ended right now,” say organizers.