A Victory for Irish Womanhood
“We’ll be in Dublin Castle,
On another sunny day
Screaming go on Ireland
Go on the Us’s
This is our time, tonight, today. — Una Mullally
After a long and arduous struggle the 8th amendment has finally been repealed by a landslide after a recent referendum. This medieval oppressive constitutional amendment made Ireland the only modern Western democracy (certainly the only one in Northern Europe) to deny its female citizens legal access to abortion, and more fundamentally autonomy over their own bodies.
Abortion has been illegal in Ireland since the foundation of the state after the end of British colonial rule. But the 8th amendment was introduced in 1983 by the Irish state after pressure and mobilisation from the Catholic church, right wing atrocities and popular social conservatism from the wider society as a reaction to the progressive social revolution of the 1960s and 70s which led to contraception being legalised in 1974. They feared that this would lead to the legalisation of abortion in Ireland.
Before this victory Irish women, if they had the funds, had to travel abroad to get the help they needed whether to Britain or elsewhere. However, not many women could afford this route so they are forced into undertaking desperate and utterly degrading measures such as taking illegal and unregulated abortion pills bought online. In Ireland consuming an abortion pill is a criminal offence which can lead to imprisonment for up to 14 years. This constitutional ban — done in the name of “family values” — has devastated the lives of many women and children across the generations.
The Catholic church historically, and currently, been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to progressive social and legal changes in Ireland. Over the years the church has been on the wrong side of the debate on gay marriage, divorce and access to contraception. Why should we be surprised? Organised religion has always opposed major social progress and has fought to keep women enslaved, under shackles, knowing their subordinate place. As Una Mullally, editor of a profound anthology of essays, poems and short stories written by Irish women what precisely the 8th amendment has meant for them — an absolutely essential book that will open your eyes to the struggles our Irish sisters have had to endure — writes:
“Like many people, I was indoctrinated by the Catholic church in school and at mass to believe that abortion was evil. As I grew older, the process of shedding that indoctrination was revelatory. My memories of how sex and reproduction were spokrn about in school are hazy; visiting nuns talking about black marks on our sould, or equating our souls with water used to clean our classroom paintbrushes — how one dirty brush could soil the whole jar. There were sensational lectures about abortion, using language I knew to be inflammatory, and later learned to be totally inaccurate. Sex was dangerous, to be feared, certainly not spoken about with adults beyond the classroom context of anatomical drawings of penises and wombs in biology books. The violent anti-choice language and imagery followed us around. It took up space on placards on shop street in Galway or outside the General Post Office in Dublin. I am thirty four years old. This is not ancient history.”
This victory isn’t just a victory for women’s rights in Ireland, which it most definitely is, or a victory against misogyny and patriarchal oppression. Nor is it just a victory for potentially opening the door for other struggles such as publicly funded contraception and a proper sex education unmolested by toxic religious propaganda. Nor is it just a victory in the struggle to break the social power of the Catholic church has in its stranglehold on Irish society, especially the female half. It is all these things. But, ultimately, this is an incredibly important victory for the global movement for reproductive rights. In a time of global reaction against a woman’s right to choose, from Trump ban on international abortion funding, to struggles in Latin America and Africa, these rights need to be fought for even more.