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In 2012 Anna Cosgrave attended a vigil for Savita Halappavanar, the woman who died due to the avoidable circumstances of a septic miscarriage. Unbeknownst to her, the emotion Anna felt after the vigil led her to start one of the most progressive and effective pro-choice movements this country’s seen.
Anna speaks to us about her apparel range REPEAL; outerwear to give a voice to a hidden problem.
I suppose to start, how did you come to set up the REPEAL campaign?
I was always really interested in the pro-choice movement, and when I went to the vigil for Savita Halappanavar, it just spawned this wrath inside of me. Then I went home and I saw the feminist Gloria Steinem who had a T-shirt that said “I had an abortion” which I thought was really cool.
And then I went to a talk that Her.ie were running, which was actually amazing, and Colm O’ Gorman from Amnesty International was saying to the audience don’t go home and be angry and just go on your laptop, which is what you usually do, and just share articles. So then I just decided the next day having met with my friend Lara, and I’d met John Mahon from The Locals about something else and I just started it.
So rather than simply being an online echo chamber, constantly sharing abortion articles, we thought of a productive way for creatives to get involved and that’s how it snowballed.
And when you have a conversation with someone in person, you don’t have that hiding behind the keyboard mentality, you have to actually discuss the issue with them face to face.
Yeah, some people don’t like talking about it, which is understandable. So wearing a jumper is like a statement of solidarity, like the YES equality badges. Some people smile at you on the streets because they’re pro choice, that’s what it’s about.
Do you think that because Dublin is such a small, compact city, it’s easier to get the message across? I’ve already seen the jumper a good few times around town.
Yeah I suppose, we’re so lucky. You guys know that the city’s so saturated, it’s not that difficult to get things done or things out into the open. I purposely did reverse PR, I didn’t have an official press release. I purposely wanted to do it really organically to prove a point, and in a few week’s time I’ll do an official press release and donation drop. I’m going to go around the country and meeting with other people too, and doing pop ups in smaller towns, where people might be a bit more hesitant to discuss abortion. I don’t want it to be only Dublin-centric.
The youth of Ireland is very progressive, very forward thinking. That was proven last year with the equality vote. Do you think that it will be difficult at all to reach out to them?
Not too much, since having a jumper with one word across it is such a wearable, easy way for someone to be a part of something. Whereas articles, or talks, or lectures, are not that easy to make you feel like you’re part of a movement.
Because there’s a spectrum, because some people might wear the jumper even if they’re not that politically active, I find that helps a bit.
Have you given the jumpers to any key people?
Again, I did reverse PR. I was reached out to by some really interesting bloggers and musicians, but I just said to them you can come down and buy one. And again at Longitude there’s gonna be some amazing people wearing them, and one musician who I’d consider one of my idols will be wearing one.
But again, I wanted it to be really genuine, and talk to women first, and I’ve linked up with different organisations to make sure that it’s a diverse photo and visual representation of Ireland. I felt that if women who’d had an abortion went online and just saw celebrities wearing them it might be a bit inauthentic.
There’s a delicate balance between promotion and awareness, and it seems this campaign is balancing it well, without shoving it down people’s throats.
There’s a guy who works at Facebook who has a personal ad spend he gets from his company, and he’s reached out to ask if we’d want any free ads, and I told him maybe in a few months time because I don’t want it to be spam. Because that’s the funny thing, even my news feed, even though it’s just my friends, when I see it I still think “oh God…”, because I don’t want it to be everywhere, and have people be numbed from it.
You’ve reached out to real, inspirational women in Ireland. Did you realise that doing this was going to hit home to people a lot harder than just getting celebrities to wear the Jumper trying to get it out there as fast as possible?
Kind of, because the whole thing that annoys me so much about the other side of this argument is when they’re talking about the issue, they’re not actually talking about what’s happened to women. I wanted people to understand whether it’s just an accidental pregnancy, or a really harrowing experience, it’s such a bad, horrible situation to go through.
I wanted to make sure that say someone, like a lad mate, had read a story from a girl who’d probably served him in a café. Because sometimes people think that it’s just those three issues; fatal foetal abnormality; rape; and incest. When really it’s actually for every woman. But it’s a women’s issue that affects everyone.
You mentioned the other side of the argument, have you been met with backlash?
They say you haven’t made it until you get your first troll. I just ignore it really. I’ve some good friends who have been long-term activists involved in this for years, and their best advice has been to just ignore it. Some of them who have shared their own stories have been really vilified and hounded, but you just ignore it.
It’s a far more complex scenario than last year’s referendum to a lot of people.
The thing that I’ve found fascinating is that some girls have come to me, and I completely understand, they don’t feel comfortable sharing their personal story, because they’re still so caught up about it. Because the other side have made it such a shameful and stigmatised thing, that when people are canvassing they themselves – like in the marriage referendum, gay people themselves were doing a lot of work – you can’t actually out yourself because it’s the way that you’ve been made feel.
I was at Body & Soul, having a dance and girls were coming over to me because I was wearing the jumper, and some of them were so upset, and it’s just really sad.
How are you dealing with the responsibility of the whole project?
I don’t know, I was so nervous beforehand. If you do anything, even if you put a gig on or you’re trying to get people into a room it will make you nervous…
Anything in the public sphere.
Yeah, I suppose for people that know me, they’ll understand the reasons I’m doing it. It is a bit nerve wracking, the responsibility, but you just have to keep going. And the people who’ve said to me that they’re supporting me is enough to keep me going. I just hope I don’t move to Barbados in two weeks time because I can’t deal with the stress!
And can you pinpoint any moment that’s given you more satisfaction than anything else? Any conversations you’ve had with anyone?
Yeah, I’ve had conversations with girls I’ve never met before who’ve said that they’ve seen people wearing the jumper and that it’s made them feel better about themselves. Someone was asking me “who’s your dream person to wear the jumper?” and instead of being a musician, or an artist, I’d actually prefer it to be a girl, or a guy I’ve never met before. Someone just walking down the street.
Do you think that opens up the dialogue?
Totally, even a few years ago there’d be people in college who couldn’t even talk about it. It’s been made such weird thing to talk about. Even the imagery that people use when they’re writing an article about the issue is really nonsensical, and it really diverts from it.
I just feel that it’s not a representation of what actually happens. It just, to me anyway, defies logic. I could go on about it all day. Nine or twelve women will leave Ireland today, do you support them or not? There’s actually the 13th amendment that allows women to travel for abortion, so why aren’t the other side opposed to that?
They just don’t want it here?
Exactly, it’s just water.
If you’d like to know more about the Repeal Project or to purchase the sweater click here. Keep an eye out for the incoming bomber jacket, tote bags and more on the site.