WMC Women Under Siege

Illegal abortion in Ireland is coming up for a vote. A #RepealThe8th activist explains the challenges

The Irish government announced in September they would hold a referendum on the 8th Amendment in mid-2018—a long-awaited move by many in the country. The announcement followed years of campaigning by pro-choice organizations in Ireland.

The 8th Amendment to Ireland’s constitution, which was enacted in 1983, “protects the right to life of the unborn,” making abortion in the country illegal unless there is “substantial risk” to the mother’s life. The law affects any woman in Ireland who is pregnant or may become pregnant. While it effectively criminalizes abortion services, it also denies pregnant women the right to make decisions about their own pregnancy and restricts doctors’ abilities to properly care for their patients. Data from the UK government show that 10 women a day travel there to access abortion services.

Thousands of protesters take to the streets of Dublin following the death of a woman who was refused an abortion. (William Murphy)

I spoke to Tara Flynn, an Irish actor, writer, and #RepealThe8th activist, about the movement in Ireland—and what needs to happen before the referendum.

Julia Canney: What steps do you think are the most important in the next few months?

Tara Flynn: I think the main issue is that we’re very behind on education here, and we have people in Ireland starting from -10. They don’t even know that they’re pro-choice, because many people are convinced that being pro-choice means that you want abortions for every single person on demand.

In reality, being pro-choice simply means that you don’t believe that you or the government should interfere in someone’s personal opinion about their body and life. We’re having to educate people very slowly and through individual conversations, because there’s no way that it’s going to happen through schools or in a more public way.

JC: How can we work to educate people?

TF: I believe that the Irish people are compassionate, and I believe that the time is right for this. I hope that we, as concerned citizens—and all of the organizations who have been campaigning for years—have enough reach to have these conversations. We have people like [Seanad Eireann Senator] Lynn Ruane and [founder of the Irish nonprofit Repeal Project] Anna Cosgrave working on educational campaigns in more low-income communities to bring information to people who may not have access to it.

Personal responsibility here is everything. We need people going back to their communities, introducing the very bare bones of these ideas of “choice,” and explaining what happens when individuals don’t have that choice.

JC: What obstacles are there for activists?

TF: There’s a lot of people who say “I’m pro-choice, but…” and this confuses people, because they don’t have the language to describe that they’re pro-choice, and they may not understand how it all works. For me, it comes down to the issues of autonomy and privacy, and there’s only really one question: “Would you force someone to be pregnant against their will, and how would you do that?”

I think more people are pro-choice than they realize, but the tactics taken by anti-choicers are very pervasive, and they can reach people who then think of abortion in terms of this horrible thing. This is where it’s important to emphasize that being pro-choice is the middle ground—you’re not forcing people to be pregnant against their will, and you’re not forcing anyone to have an abortion who doesn’t want one. You’re offering people the choice of what to do with their own lives.

JC: Do you have any advice on how to have the conversation with friends and family who may be on the fence on this issue?

TF: I think it’s important for people to realize who is worth engaging with. I’m not saying that people who are anti-choice are not worth conversing with, but we don’t really have time to unpack the issue with people whose minds are not going to be changed. The anti-choice side uses such ancient, misogynistic terms to silence women—labeling us as shrill or extreme—and we need to conserve our energy and time for the really hard fights to come.

We need to hold onto the idea that being pro-choice is a compassionate and respectful stance, where we respect all views, including those that are in opposition to ours. This isn’t about convincing or cajoling—this is about talking to people who are maybe personally opposed to abortion but who don’t think it’s any of their business, and helping them to reflect on the fact that this means that they are pro-choice.

JC: What advice would you have for #RemoteRepealers, people who are looking to share their passion for the fight from abroad?

TF: I think that people can put pressure on their own governments to put pressure on the Irish government. Governments are very vain, and they don’t like being viewed as human rights transgressors—which the UN has repeatedly said to the Irish government. You can call in to speak to representatives or acquaintances, and you can stand in solidarity with us on social media.

We need to show that being pro-choice is the cool thing. We can be our most useful when we’re out having these conversations, even when they’re extremely difficult.

JC: What is your favorite part about the pro-choice community?

TF: As ever in pro-choice spaces, there’s a certain warmth, a solidarity, a lack of judgment from those coming together, and just a complete visibility: People are saying “I am here, I am here for you,” and that is just wonderful.

To learn more about the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment in Ireland, visit www.abortionrightscampaign.ie.

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