Marching for Choice

Gardaí have not provided an official estimate as to the amount of people who marched for choice over the weekend, but according to some of the force, and many who took part, the numbers ran well into the thousands. Organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign, the fourth annual March for Choice drew the attention of politicians, anti-choice campaigners, and almost every major news outlet in the country. It was trending on Twitter before it had even began, and long after it ended; as many who couldn’t make it to the event expressed their support, while others marvelled at images of the masses who dominated O’Connell street on Saturday afternoon.

Before marching, crowds gathered at the Garden of Remembrance armed with banners declaring the need for abortion rights, and suitcases signifying the thousands of women and girls who are forced to leave the country to seek terminations each year. Those chanting “Get your rosaries off my ovaries,” and “Pro-life, that’s a lie – you don’t care if women die,” were joined by Tara Flynn, Independent TD Clare Daly, and members of the ARC and ROSA, who shared their own personal experiences, their reasons for marching, and reinforced the fact that their voices would no longer be ignored.

Speaking before the march, Flynn said

This is the story of about 200,000 of us – of women living in Ireland who have been ignored, who have told their stories and had the government and the media pretend that we haven’t. No one should have to tell their story, but I’m glad that I did (…) We’ve had enough.

March for choice - HeadStuff.orgFlynn’s words were met with the rambunctious applause of the thousands of people who also believe that women should not be forced to travel to have an abortion, and who, too, have had enough. Daly received a similar response at the end of the march at Merrion Square. Addressing the crowd, her statement that the pro-choice movement was now “an unstoppable force,” and that “the days of secrecy and shame (…) belong to a different Ireland,” seemed to reflect the overarching mood of the afternoon – one of resentment towards the Irish government, but also of hope and solidarity too.

Saturday’s march was the last major demonstration for pro-choice campaigners before the next general election. Recently, Enda Kenny declared that if Fine Gael were to return to power next year, they would not repeal the Eighth Amendment unless the law could be swiftly replaced by something else. Fianna Fail’s Micheál Martin expressed similar remarks last week, when he said that the party would not initiate a referendum if elected. Both responses resulted in major retaliation from pro-choice supporters online, and at the march. It didn’t take long for the crowd to start a chant of “Fuck the church, fuck the state, women must decide their fate,” with many holding banners and posters exhibiting similar sentiments.

Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council of Ireland joined the hundreds of others on Twitter and Facebook who say they will refuse to vote for any politician or party that don’t make repealing the Eighth Amendment a priority. Speaking to the Irish Independent, she said that

It’s complete hypocrisy that women’s rights are still being ignored (…) We are asking people to only vote for the parties that support abortion in their manifesto. It will be the first question we ask when they come knocking on our doors.

There seems to be an identical sense of protest online, with many users declaring that they won’t vote for anybody who “shirks the #repealthe8th issue” and that “Any politician that claims to support equality but doesn’t support #repealthe8th is a liar.”

Twitter account @SligoProChoice have even started tweeting local TDs and candidates asking what their stance on abortion is, and whether or not they support the rectification of the country’s reproductive laws.

But Saturday’s march didn’t just reflect the mood of pro-choice advocates – it also led to Tanaiste Joan Burton’s confirmation of her party’s position on the Eighth Amendment. In a message to Labour party members before the march, Burton said that the law was “one of the most retrograde parts of the Constitution,” and that it “cannot be changed soon enough.” She also made reference to the archaic foundations of the Amendment that was signed into law in 1983, and declared that Labour Women were working on composing a compassionate and credible solution to the issue.

March for Choice - HeadStuff.orgAlthough Burton has yet to announce the details of her proposed solution – or to confirm whether or not it will support free, safe, and legal abortion for every woman in Ireland – Labour’s stance on abortion thankfully does not echo that of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, who have both refused to entertain the possibility of a referendum. The persistence of pro-choice campaigners, the influx of women speaking out about their experiences, and the success of the march itself, means that repealing the Eighth Amendment has now become a red line issue for Labour, who had stated previously that it was not.

Following the march, also posted a poll entitled ‘Do you want the 8th Amendment to be repealed?’ As it stands, the poll’s results show that 74% of people want the Amendment rectified, 18% don’t, and 6% aren’t sure. Outcomes like these not only confirm that a vast majority of the Irish public think the country’s abortion laws are unjust, but also refutes Cora Sherlock’s claim that Ireland and abortion have nothing, and should never have anything, to do with one another. In a tweet that generated a lot of warranted criticism from just about everybody, the deputy chairperson of the pro-life campaign stated that “The Irish people don’t believe in abortion.”

One of the organisers of the yearly Rally for Life, Niamh Uí Bhriain, was also sharing similar misconceptions following the March for Choice. Speaking to Vice, she said that “there is no public demand for another referendum on abortion; it’s not a priority for people.”

One can only assume that Uí Bhriain and Sherlock refused to watch Six One on the day of the march, thus failing to see any footage of the thousands of people who rallied for women’s rights. Surely, they must have missed those couple of days when #MarchForChoice and #repealthe8th trended nonstop on Twitter. The support for the pro-choice campaign exists. The desire for change exists. Claims that the Irish people do not want reproductive legislation reforms are just that – claims. The thousands who marched for choice on Saturday proved that the demand for free, safe, and legal abortion is there… And that it’s not about to go away any time soon.

Images via Sam Boal