The X-ile Project launched on December 10, 2015, with their first round of 11 photographs. They hope that their project will call people’s attention to what they say is an “identification problem between the Irish government and some factions of Irish society, and women who travel for access to abortion services.”
Fast forward to today, and the project’s gallery now features photos of 33 women taken in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and Canada. It includes Irish women living in Ireland, Irish women living abroad, and non-Irish women living in Ireland.
The abortion debate became a major topic of conversation during the General Election in the Republic of Ireland this past year. Unfortunately, after the dust settled, there were still no concrete plans to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Constitution which “acknowledges the right to live of the unborn.” In doing so, this Amendment also makes it illegal for a woman to get an abortion.
The fact of the matter was that the people of Ireland ended up having to pick their battles during this election. “There definitely was strong support for repeal as a red line issue in the run up to the election,” explain X-ile Project organizers, “However Ireland is emerging from a tough economic period. Whilst many people demand repealing the 8th, there is also a demand to return people to work and solve the homelessness crisis. There were many complex issues at stake.”
Even though the election has now passed and the new government has finally been formed in the Republic, other developments have kept the conversation going and have served as powerful calls to action. As a few examples, X-ile Project organizers point to the fact that a woman in the North has been prosecuted for procuring abortion pills. They also mention the fact that in the south, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has made misleading statements about the history of referenda on the 8th Amendment. Additionally, the UN has ruled that Ireland’s abortion laws violate human rights, and recent Amnesty polling numbers show that the public wants to see change and wants to see the Eighth Amendment repealed in the south. Currently, there’s also some debate in the south over a bill which would allow for abortions in the case of Fatal Fetal Abnormalities (FFA).
And now Brexit may have added salt to an already gaping wound.
“Any measure that may result in further barriers to abortion access is of great concern for women in Ireland and Northern Ireland,” explain Project organizers, “If nothing else, Brexit highlights the incredibly precarious and unsustainable position of women who cannot access abortion on any part of this island. Any uncertainty around travel across borders leaves women here vulnerable.”
But as American journalist, Susan Taylor, once said that, “Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” Irish women are certainly not backing down from their fight, and appear to have only stepped up their efforts in their fight for bodily autonomy.
“We saw a significant boost in participation around the time of the prosecution in Northern Ireland,” explain X-ile Project organizers, “and not just from women there but from women in the Republic too.”
These efforts appear to be paying off. Project organizers note that the Irish government has finally put the Eighth Amendment on its programme for government, and that the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth continues to pressure the government to follow through on the promises it has made regarding the Eighth Amendment.
As X-ile Project organizers rightly note, “Women are talking, and people are listening.” They themselves hope their project will keep the conversation going. “With each release of photographs, additional pressure is put on the government to act,” explain Project organizers, “Every time a woman stands up and speaks out, the pressure increases.”
With the release of the third set of photographs, X-ile Project organizers also issued their own call to action—a challenge to the Irish government. In an email announcing the new additions to the gallery, they write:
X-ile Project calls on the new Irish government to address the urgent need to change the draconian abortion laws and to call a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment. In addition, the unconscionable prosecution of the young woman in Northern Ireland who accessed abortion pills demonstrates the vital need for change on all parts of this island, north and south.
Project organizers elaborate on the need for a referendum, emphasizing the fact that “...people who have never had the opportunity to vote should be given the chance as a matter of urgency.” They continue, noting that, “As far as we are concerned, calling a referendum is simply a question of the government implementing their role in our democracy.”
The X-ile project is not alone in their efforts to get the government’s attention. Every day, pro-choice groups in both the north and the south are organizing both independent and group efforts to get their point across, frequently using creative and innovative ways. “We find the same enthusiasm and determination in all of the various places that X-ile Project works,” say Project organizers, “We have great support in Northern Ireland and also all over the south. There are significant connections between organizations all over the island that are strengthened through the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment.”
Video of our statement as the drone lands and swallowing pills at Narrow Waters. https://t.co/kt3zR5sAO6
— Courtney Robinson (@Coroweee) June 21, 2016
On June 21st, several pro-choice groups used a drone to deliver abortion pills from the Republic of Ireland to women who were waiting on the ground in Northern Ireland. As another project that works to promote awareness of the situation both in the North and in the Republic, X-ile Project is all about it!
“Women on this Island have been forced to take unconventional action in exercising their human rights,” explain Project organizers,”While the government are content to ignore the needs of half their population, the reality of abortion continues. 12 women per day leave Ireland seeking abortion services. If the governments, north and south, are not willing to provide this routine medical care to its population, other groups will step in—and we support that.”
Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A is another group that was created to address the way the Irish government effectively exiles 12 women a day as they force these women to go abroad in order to avail themselves of abortion services. They make their point both with their performances, but also with their name. “IMELDA” is an acronym—Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion (IMELDA). In an FAQ, the group explains that, “Through our use of performance and through harnessing the freedoms enabled due to our base in London, we also seek to challenge patriarchal conventions and playfully subvert gendered cultural norms in an Irish context related to the restrictions on abortions.”
And “playfully subvert” them they do! For example, they once “knicker-bombed” Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Kenny was once in London for a Fine Gael fundraising dinner and while there, he was “served” some “pro-choice undergarments.”
The IMELDAs support the work done by The X-ile Project. “The X-ile Project is a fantastic project that puts a human face on the thousands of women who are exiled from the island of Ireland every year in order to access safe and legal abortion services,” they say in a statement provided to Queens Free Press, “Projects such as this are crucial given the immaturity of politicians across the island of Ireland in facing up to women’s very real, everyday needs, despite the criticism of international human rights bodies such as UNHRC...” They also mention that, “The X-ile Project is a good example of how contemporary activists are harnessing online media to voice women’s experience.”
The X-ile Project has always considered Northern Ireland to be part of their project, even though the majority of the photographs released in their first set were from the Republic. Fast forward to today, and you’ll actually find that ¼ of the most recent set of photographs were actually taken in Northern Ireland.
For them, this is a cross-border conversation.
“Women in Northern Ireland face the same barriers to abortion as women in the Republic, and so the struggle is the same,” explain Project organizers. Emma Campbell, the Project’s Belfast-based photographer, has run point on efforts to spread word about the X-ile Project in the North.
And the founders of The X-ile Project are all too happy to continue to lend their voices to the struggle in Northern Ireland. “We will keep working with groups in Northern Ireland, as we believe making connections in other places bolsters and strengthens our campaign and abortion campaigning in general,” explain Project organizers.
This year, the Rally for Choice will be taking place in Northern Ireland on July 2. “We’ve had elections this year north and south of the border, more pro-choice politicians were returned, but it’s still not enough,” reads a post, announcing the Belfast march, on womensgrid.org.uk, “This demand is bigger than any ballot box and it is now up to us to take what they are withholding from us.”
And women in Ireland, both in the North and in the Republic, are certainly willing to make the decisive moves that are necessary to take back what the government is withholding.