An edited version of the following piece appeared in yesterday’s Evening Echo. Below we publish the unedited version in it’s entirety with the kind permission of the author, Rebel City’s very own, Rachael O’Sullivan.
A woman’s work is never done, and at €1.14 an hour, the price the Social Protection Department has put on our labour, is it worth it? Strikes for fair working conditions conjures picket lines, cars beeping in support and a general feeling that the working man has rights. He should expect certain humane and fair conditions. Sweatshops are bad; lunch breaks are good. Our history of strike action has taken us from an industrial revolution that thought a seven-day working week and child labour were acceptable, to a modern environment of paid sick leave and assault free work places. Zero hour contracts now threaten that, and yes, we will strike if we need to. It is a tool we understand and is the failsafe we use to ensure our labour remains valued and respected. That our human right to equality is enshrined in our society.
It is fitting then, that over 27 groups around Ireland have called for a national strike to force the government to hold a referendum on the 8th amendment. Women and men around Ireland will be holding events at 12 noon on the 8th of March. Strike for Repeal, are not calling for the government to make abortion legal. They are calling for the right for the people of Ireland to finally make a collective decision. They want the government to allow democracy. To allow the people to decide. To stop avoiding a controversial topic and to face the realities of the female population.
Abortion is one of Ireland’s most divisive subjects. Everyone has an opinion and our democracy ensures they can voice it. The fundamental problem is, should another person’s human rights be your opinion? Do you have the right to make a decision that will affect the physical, psychological, and emotional health of another human being? A decision you make for a stranger could determine their earning power, employability, socio-economic status and their ability to secure a mortgage for the rest of their adult life. Ireland has abortion. It is economic abortion shrouded in secrecy, lies and shame. Over 165,000 women from Ireland have had abortions in the UK since 2006. 65% of the UK’s non-resident abortions are from Ireland. 9-12 women a day travel to the UK to have abortions. Over 1,500 women have travelled to the Netherlands since 2006 for abortions. And just one abortion pill provider shipped 5,600 abortion pills to Ireland within a five-year period. There is no conclusive information on the annual amount of abortion pills women in Ireland are taking. These statistics do not capture the full story as they are based on the UK Department of Health’s records of women who openly recorded their address as the Rep of Ireland. This makes the voluntary inclusion of an address on a form the only method we have of tracking Irish abortion in the UK. It does not include other countries we travel to, and the real figures will show our current statistics to be a stark underestimation.
Abortion protects women. It protects us from raising a child alone, it protects us from the psychological impacts of carrying a rapist’s child, it protects us if something goes wrong during the pregnancy. Abortion is a medical procedure. It has health risks. If a woman has a rushed and unsupported procedure in the UK and returns to Ireland, can she seek medical help? If she haemorrhages internally, can she say why? If her abortion pill fails or partially aborts, can she approach her GP? Partial abortions can cause serious infections. Does she risk septicaemia or risk imprisonment? This is Ireland’s economic abortion, and its availability depends on last-minute funds to travel, or the freedom to do so. We are a country that has enshrined in our constitution, under article 40.3.3, that a foetus has equal rights to the mother. This places Irish women with the inability to determine their own health care during pregnancy and removes their right to make decisions around their health while pregnant. The James Reilly Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, states that conditions like inevitable miscarriage must become life threatening before a doctor can intervene. In the case of Savita Halappanavar this was too late. If you consider that out of 100 pregnancies, 15-20 will spontaneously abort or miscarry before seven weeks, it places a worrying number of women in Ireland at risk.
The Pro Life campaign uses slogans like, “I’m speaking for the unborn or the pre-born baby”. They are right. They do speak for them. Abortion is not a comfortable or a straightforward medical procedure. There are two people in the equation. You may wish to love them both equally, but you cannot. The question is primal in nature. It delves within our basic desires to protect children, but at what point does an unborn child have rights? And should these rights out strip the mothers? Should a woman, once pregnant, become an ‘incubator’ who allows her human rights to be put on hold for nine months? Pregnancy is a complex and life altering experience for every woman who survives it. The journey into motherhood sees your locus of control shift from yourself to your child. Your instincts for self-preservation switches to the child. Our evolution depended on this instinct and it makes abortion a last resort and complex decision for every woman who makes it. The idea that women could use it as a form of contraception, after a drunken night out, is insulting to the nature and integrity of women. It should not be used to further campaigns as it depicts women as depraved, and we are not. We make great mothers, excellent wife’s and nurturing girlfriends. It is why we accept the unpaid labour of domesticity and provide the nurturance at the heart of our society. It is why you love us. You trust our capacity for the compassion and the care we bring to your lives.
A crucial point in Ireland’s abortion debate is that women carry the responsibility of unplanned pregnancy. At what point did men become removed from the equation? Why is unplanned parenthood a female responsibility? Why do we have abandoned wife’s or single mothers? Could we create a society that reacts to abandoning a child or rape in the same way we do to cannibalism? Something depraved and physically repulsive. Or should we continue to allow our Social Welfare system to track fathers down because teaching our sons to share responsibility is complex? Is it easier to create laws than morals in our society? Ireland has abortion. The reasons we need abortions has been present in our country for generations. Our laundries made these women slaves, our anti-abortion laws make them criminals. Same solution, different generation, but the root problem remains. You may not agree with abortion, but we already have it. Voting to keep Ireland abortion free simply passes the moral baton to the UK. It is easier and will allow a feeling of sitting-room-self-righteousness. Isolated feelings of contentment but no shared social responsibility for the nature of our actual society. The one we live in; not the utopic version we believe a law has the power to create. Suppression of Ireland’s abortions will not change Irish society; it just rebrands our laundries.
The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. In Ireland, we will see a ‘Strike for Repeal’ throughout the country. You can strike by not going to work, organising a lunchtime protest, or, by wearing black clothes or an armband. It is a solidarity protest for the hundreds of thousands of women who take time off work and travel in secret to other countries. It is time to face the question and have a referendum. I hope we start with the reality of abortion in Ireland and support women through the decriminalisation of their decisions and the medical support they require. Societies based on denial and inequality remain unhealthy and never create solutions. I want to live in a country where I can be an equal and be unafraid to become pregnant. “Motherhood or prison” is not an Ireland to be proud of. It is time for change and to see Ireland as it is, not how denial or locked, secret doors whisper or chant it could be. Accept the things you cannot change and support not criminalising the women of Ireland.