In perhaps the most significant moment so far in the Repeal the 8th movement, the Citizens’ Assembly has voted 87 per cent to 13 per cent that the constitutional ban on abortion under 8th Amendment ‘should not be retained in full’. While financing the movement by buying REPEAL apparel is still important, we are now ‘post-sweater’.
The rewriting of the Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, to exclude the 8th Amendment will be triumph of those all who fought for it. The laying to rest of our past and a reconceptualisation of our future 100 years on from the Easter Rising will be no cliché but a milestone against which we can chart our growth as a country – A country that can entertain the rights of fellow citizens to disagree and a country that values the bodily autonomy of women. A country that no longer will defer to the future or rely on Britain to manage all that is too taboo to address on home soil. The exclusion of the 8th Amendment will save lives and put an end to the sexual, social, and economic discrimination of women.
The time for slogans is over. We are ‘post-sweater’ in the campaign for female bodily autonomy in the Republic of Ireland. Don’t now risk commodifying the entire movement into a piece of clothing – much less a piss up on O’Connell Bridge. The REPEAL Project itself has not done its job – it is still working. While the overall goal (the addition of the voice of women into the legislating conversation of female reproductive rights) is arguably closer to realisation than ever before, the effects of diluting the work of this cause now would be catastrophic.
It should be clear that while REPEAL Project was something that captured the imagination of the youth, highlighting it to many who were blinkered to the issue, there has been people campaigning for decades. There’s now a growing alliance of over 80 pro-choice groups.
One of the things I observe most often on the campaign trail, in nightclubs, or in the corridors of schools is the condemnation of the REPEAL Project as somehow misunderstanding the complexities of the debate it has entered. How can an organisation facilitating a national discussion so embedded in identity, law, and ideology somehow so recklessly forget to include the technicalities into their demands? This, of course, is nothing more than the patriarchy at work: A defence mechanism for the status-quo so often (though not exclusively) men to consolidate power and reaffirm their own self-worth through the continued control over women and any who agree with them.
Has the REPEAL Movement become commoditised in the pursuit of a puritan goal? Probably. Does that matter? Absolutely. Is it a valid reason to let up the pressure? Hardly. Do not dare equate slogans with a lack of understanding of how complex abortion legislation will ultimately prove. Virginia Woolf wrote that ‘for most of history, anonymous was a woman’. Do not now tell her how she should acceptably add her voice. We ask you whom has been granted the power to police the tone this social movement? – as Una Mullally so eloquently argued in The Times.
Do not mistake this letter for an attack on REPEAL’s approach to securing a referendum. Were it not for them many a marcher would not a have been mobilised in the numbers they were. Question the over simplification of the slogans all you like. Regardless of your musings the REPEAL project has launched women’s reproductive rights to the forefront of public discourse in Ireland at level few have been able to. While the coming legislative conversations on how best to legalise abortions will be lengthy, lethargic, an inescapably technical there is an immense encouragement in going after the ideal if for no other reason than keeping the aim of the organisation alive in the minds of its members.
On Sunday April 23 the Olympia Theatre will host ‘A Night in the Key of 8’, an event that will allow musicians and influencers to contribute their voices to the movement. Oh! You have a black sweater with the word ‘Repeal’ frosted across the breast? That is irrelevant. It is not an accessory. It is not ‘cool’. It is no longer the point. There’s a reason you cannot buy them at your local Urban Outfitters and we should plan to keep it that way.
Social movements are, as if by definition, delicate phenomena convoluting from the moment they are idealised. Guided; never led. Perhaps the very essence of protest is in its social nature. With it comes disagreements and clashes over the goals and strategies of the organisation. These shouldn’t be seen as headaches: The complexity of the group should reflect the complex reality that produced it. At any one time there are an unquantifiable number of exchanges influencing its members and this complicates further where beliefs are subjected to change over time.
Those positive aspects of this type of mobilisation need to be acknowledged. Political mobilisation is exciting. It can be fun. Within the rubric of oppression and discrimination there is an enormous sentiment in seeking positives and emancipating through what you can control. This is what led me into writing this letter: Harnessing the energy of positivity in an overwhelmingly negative landscape is one thing. It is entirely another to protest simply because you enjoy it. If you count yourself in this grouping, we assure you, you are missing the point in all of this.
In 1983 and on the back of a victory in the ‘82 general election, and a growing anxiety in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s ruling that women should be legally allowed to privately seek abortions, Charles Haughey’s Fianna Fáil triggered a referendum that, passing with a 67 per cent majority, afforded the highest degree of rights to the unborn child through the addition of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1983 Ireland as an organisation decided vote in favour of the 8th Amendment. 34 years later it is changing its mind. 34 years later it will be heard.
Abortion had prior been made illegal in Ireland in 1867 under the ‘Offences Against the Person Act’ 56 years before women were able to vote in the country. The voices of women have been systematically ignored, pressurised and normalised at every step of this debate. How little does one have to value a women’s life to remove from her the right to control her own body? There is no body politic however well meaning more capable of governing a woman’s autonomy than her own cognition.
The only thing more precarious than abortions are illegal abortions: The only thing more dangerous than campaign tail apathy is assuming the result has already been decided. In 2016 El-Salvador introduced a parliamentary bill that would allow for the legalisation of abortions in the case of rape, a risk to the health of the mother, or if the foetus is deemed not to be viable. While, according to Human Rights Watch, the bill is expected to face a strong degree of politicisation the presentation of a bill to parliament is a worthy cause of celebration in a country that criminalised abortion 20 years prior and that has delivered 50-year prison sentences to women who’ve sought them incarcerating them under ‘aggravated homicide’. El-Salvador has for years come under criticism from the same UN office that has regularly criticised Ireland’s stance on abortion law as both a violation of women’s rights and a systemic discrimination against the autonomy of the female body. In response to such scathing criticism Ireland is yet to introduce any such parliamentary bill.
We implore you to contribute to this movement. But to do so in a way that helps the cause. If you care about the REPEAL movement you will be at the Olympia on Sunday either on the street or inside the theatre. For most of history, anonymous was a woman: Add your voice however best you see fit. It is only yours to contribute. But do not misunderstand our position: We’re taking this stance we have to – Not because we want to…
Photography: Lara Phillips