Last week, Dutch pro-choice organisation Women on Waves stated that they had plans to use a drone to deliver abortion pills to Ireland. Soon afterwards, pro-life supporter Cora Sherlock condemned the project, claiming that it demonstrated an “utter disregard for women’s health.” While Sherlock seems to think that she is (somehow) protecting the rights of women by denying them termination pills, it is not difficult to dismiss her ideas about human rights as completely contradictory, and a little bit absurd. [pullquote] Not unlike the overtly homophobic and tactless strategies used by the No side during the marriage referendum, pro-life groups appear more intent on diverting the issue at hand, rather than presenting it for what it actually is – a fight for women’s rights. [/pullquote] Sherlock, like the thousands of other pro-life campaigners around the country, base their arguments around the notion that repealing the Eighth Amendment would actually (again, somehow) take away human rights, rather than support them. Not unlike the overtly homophobic and tactless strategies used by the No side during the marriage referendum, pro-life groups appear more intent on diverting the issue at hand, rather than presenting it for what it actually is – a fight for women’s rights. Just as Iona ironically fought for the good of Ireland’s youth by securing funds from the U.S. and screaming “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!” at every chance they got, so are pro-lifers grasping at the opportunity to completely refocus the decriminalisation of abortion. In a shocking twist of events (that really isn’t that shocking at all), the rights of a hypothetical child are, once again, more important than those of actual human beings. There seems to be an unfortunate pattern emerging.
It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to say that all this talk of a potential abortion referendum has arisen thanks to the stunning success of the marriage equality referendum. May 23rd not only saw Ireland become the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote, but also led to an influx of online articles, tweets, and Facebook posts declaring that our little country had finally dragged itself out of the dark ages. We were proud, and we had a right to be – but the legalisation of same sex marriage did not automatically abolish discrimination towards the LGBT community, and it certainly does not mean that everybody in Ireland is now equal. Is it amazing to see the passion and dedication that fuelled #YesEquality’s campaign being transferred to secure the safety and rights of women? Of course it is! Is it incredible that #marref inspired thousands to continue standing up for what they believe in? Definitely. But is it fair to say that the Ireland of today bears no resemblance whatsoever to the stigma-inducing, patriarchal, church-run Ireland of the 50s and 60s? Not at all.
This week, Amnesty International released a poll showing that a massive 81% of Irish adults are in favour of wider access to abortion services. This would be great news; if only the same poll didn’t reveal that a staggering 64% of people were completely unaware that abortion was a crime at all. Stats like these prove just how poor the circulation of information concerning abortion has been prior to now. Not only this, but the poll also actively suggests that a vast majority of the country is pro-choice. If we were to go to an official vote tomorrow, I bet that the results would differ drastically.
Essentially, this severe lack of education, and re-presentation of information from pro-life groups, means that the question of women’s rights is thrown by the wayside, or ignored completely. Aside from being undoubtedly problematic, it’s also just a little bit ironic. When Youth Defence pride themselves on reproducing cartoon images of smiling pregnant women, with big red arrows pointing to their bellies, and a caption that reads – ‘Stand up for THEIR lives’, you have to wonder whether they know women are actually people too (!). Demonstrations like this go hand in hand with the so-called ‘Rally for Life’ that took place in the city centre on July 4th. Not only was it physically painful to see people grinning and waving giant love hearts declaring that they are pro-life (yes, we know, thanks), but it would appear that they are using the term “life” fairly loosely. Surely, a woman who has been raped deserves the right to terminate her pregnancy and attempt to rebuild her life? Doesn’t a woman who is at risk of suicide get a chance to live? Shouldn’t we be granted full control of our bodies? Don’t we get a choice? No? Oh, ok then.
It’s bad enough – if not a little bit predictable – that those who led the campaign against same sex marriage are also in favour of keeping the Eighth Amendment just the way it is. But the warped ideologies of Keith Mills and David Quinn are not all we have to be concerned about. I find it particularly harrowing that young Irish women are marching in rallies that advocate for the systematic oppression of their sex. Is it not strange that girls who aren’t even out of school yet are so willing to give up the right to their bodies? Is it not odd that some of the same people who displayed the LGBT flag on their Facebook profiles during Pride are also sharing posts that elevate the life of a foetus above that of a woman? Is it not contradictory that equality appears to be reserved for a select few?
It’s hard to believe that a substantial amount of people think they have the right to dictate what women do or don’t do with their bodies. It’s even harder to believe that some women are actively campaigning to reduce themselves to walking wombs. Honestly, it seems more akin to the plot of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; not contemporary Irish society. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a simple declaration of “If you don’t like abortions, don’t have one” is going to win any battles any time soon. Just like the fight for same sex marriage, the fight for choice has been ongoing for decades – and will need to continue until the Irish population is properly educated, Irish women gain full control of their bodies, and the Eighth Amendment is repealed. Cora Sherlock rejects this proposition on the basis that “a little bit of abortion” will lead to more safe, legal, and necessary abortions in the future. Personally, I don’t really see what is so wrong with that.