On May 25th, 2018, Ireland will have the chance to repeal the Eighth Amendment of its constitution in a referendum. This amendment was adopted in 1983 and it asserted that a fetus had the same rights as the woman who carried it. It’s no surprise that this law came into existance, since Ireland was still pretty synonymous with the Catholic faith when the Amendment was passed and while it allowed for pregnancy termination if the life of the mother was shown to be at risk, it made proving that exception more difficult. It also didn’t allow for the mental health of the mother – only the physical. The Eighth strengthened penalties for seeking an abortion both in Ireland and abroad and it ensured that community groups and organizations could not legally help women who wished to explore those options. It took decades of hard work to rectify the latter circumstances but abortion in Ireland was and is still illegal.
This is not to say that women (and girls) don’t get abortions. Recent statistics estimate that more than 150,000 Irish women have had abortions since the eighties. About a dozen have them every day – either by traveling to the U.K. where abortion is legal, by using the outlawed Plan B pill, or getting an illegal (and sometimes unsafe) abortion in Ireland itself. These women risk a prison sentence of up to fourteen years if they are caught having an abortion on the island, but they do it anyway and that is really the only point that should matter in the upcoming referendum on whether the Eighth should be repealed or not.
On this day in 1981, Bobby Sands was elected to Parliament. His candidacy was a risky maneuver, given that he was in prison and on hunger strike at the time and while his win ended up being a masterful propaganda tool, it did not save his life.
I know that our country is in trouble and that many of you are exhausted and super angry about how things are going down. I know how many problems we have and that everything from jobs to race relations have stalled in the last few years. It leaves many of us divided, frustrated, and looking for new possibilities and directions. I know our system is broken and skewed, and I know that if you have made up your mind, I won’t change it by anything I write, do, or say. That is not the point of this post. This one is for those who are willing to read with empathy and reason. Those who understand that I’m not another voice telling you what to do, but one that is begging you to listen….to everyone.
Ireland has always had more than its fair share of feisty women. By 1908 there were already numerous Suffragist groups in Ireland, full of women who wanted equality, the ability to vote, and more freedoms. Many of these groups focused on petitions, publicity, and spreading their message through polite channels and discourse, and they attracted many prominent socialites who used their influence to further the cause. This was not good enough for Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, her husband Francis, and their radical friends. 108 years ago today, they founded the Irish Women’s Franchise League, a group dedicated to equal rights that used agitation and action to spread their message.