The Scarlet Shame of Repealing from Abroad

Five years ago I left Ireland for Canada. Although the recession and its effects were a part of why I left, it wasn’t the only reason. One of the major reasons was I was diagnosed with chronic scarlet fever. A condition that affects 50% of Ireland’s population – those with ovaries.

Doctors said there was nothing they could do. I would have to move to Canada. With their big ridey prime minister, progressive abortion laws and buses that came on time it was the only place they could promise I would be safe. I might even recover they said. Off I went to this futuristic land of bodily autonomy and feminist politicians, armed with doubts. Ah, it can’t be that good. Can it? Fuck. It was. Bastards! Bodily autonomy and choice felt great. Trudeau looked good and I found a shop that sold Wispas. Life was blissful. But my scarlet fever didn’t end, it only got worse.

I became even more mortified that Ireland didn’t have this. Scarlet that while Canada had made abortion legal in 1969, Ireland remained one of the only countries in the world with a constitutional ban on the procedure. Scarlet that while Trudeau was running around talking all things feminist and making half his cabinet female, Enda was ignoring anything to do with Repeal and making a holy show of us on the daily. Scarlet because while I knew I missed people and the sense of humor from home, I also knew that I might never go back.

A friend of mine from Canada was told at 18 weeks pregnant that her baby would not survive to full term and was advised by doctors to terminate the pregnancy so as to not risk her own health. She struggled with the decision for this wanted child and in the end didn’t need to terminate as she lost the baby shortly after. This is a horrific situation for anyone to go through but I kept thinking about how much harder this would have been for her if she had lived in Ireland.

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No doctor could have recommended this to her even though it was medically best for her health. She could not have a sought an abortion in Ireland because she would face up to 14 years in prison. If she couldn’t afford to travel to the UK, she would be forced to risk her health – forced to remain pregnant with a fatal fetal abnormality.[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We needed to let our leaders know that the scarlet fever had spread international. Our dirty little secret was out and we were going to tell everyone.[/perfectpullquote]

It became so much more apparent that Ireland was not a safe place for pregnant people. I was living in a country with free, safe and legal abortion and I needed to fight for it in my own. I just didn’t know how. Not being able to vote while also living abroad means you can feel a bit voiceless and disengaged in Irish politics. So a friend and I decided to use our platform at Scarlet Brigade to start a Repeal Global group for Irish diaspora to get directly involved in the fight. We needed to let our leaders know that the scarlet fever had spread international. Our dirty little secret was out and we were going to tell everyone.

Our original plan was to encourage a few cities to set up solidarity events with us to coincide with the March 4 Choice in Dublin but obviously, with ‘Scarlet over the 8th’ being a plague on Ireland, diaspora around the globe jumped at the chance to get involved. In over 30 cities from Paris to Melbourne, New York to London, Kathmandu and beyond, people joined us to stand on the right side of history in solidarity with the 25,000 marching for choice in Dublin.

It was really empowering to feel the solidarity, to demand change and to feel like we had a voice abroad. But a lot of other things also became clear during the global events.

Irish people weren’t the only ones that were scarlet over the 8th; everyone else seemed to be mortified too on our behalf. An elderly Scottish doctor who happened to be passing by the protest in Vancouver was almost in tears reading our very grim timeline of Ireland’s oppression of women. He described how in the 1960s he had performed a lot of abortions for Irish women and couldn’t believe it was still happening. The sentiment was shared around the world and images starting pouring in from women in India and doctors in Perth, who all wanted to show their solidarity for Irish women. I can’t remember the amount of times I used Google translate (badly) to read messages I was getting on Facebook from people who were asking us how they could help.

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It also became painfully obvious from talking to Irish people abroad about Repeal that it was another reason they didn’t want to live in Ireland. Lots of people living abroad are in their 30s and want to start families but recognise that the 8th amendment affects all pregnant people. Anyone from our generation wanting to move back already has to consider if they will get a job that’s not an internship. Will they be able to afford to buy a house? Why is the Angelus still a thing? What the fuck is a spice bag? We’d rather not add: why am I moving back to a country that the Catholic Church still runs and where being pregnant aren’t safe? The list is already grim enough.

I know we like to think that the oppressive reign of the Catholic Church is a thing of the past but they still have a firm grip on our ovaries and our laws. Lads are still sniffing lines of holy communion off the alter every Sunday and politicians are still standing for their daily prayer in the Dail. Let’s not forget that it was only four months ago they were digging up the remains of children who lost their lives at the hand of the so called “pro life” Catholic Church. It’s still the land where women can have the body of Christ but not their own.

I want to be able to move back to a country where the only real scarlet is happening on The Late Late Show. I want to be able to move back to an Ireland where having ovaries doesn’t make me a potential criminal.

Thousands of volunteers have already been fighting for years at home to Repeal the 8th and it’s time for diaspora to get more involved too. We will be coordinating another ‘Global March 4 Choice’ this year to coincide with the March 4 Choice in Dublin on September 30th. If you want to get involved in Repeal Global then visit Repeal Global on Facebook/Twitter or Instagram for more information.

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