Trigger warning: Article contains discussion of abortion and the laws surrounding it.
The week of the Irish referendum, I barely achieved anything. Reports were left unwritten, emails left unanswered. My flat – which needed to be cleared and vacated right after the referendum looked like a bomb had hit it. I blame it on Abroad for Yes.If you haven’t seen it, Abroad for Yes
is a Facebook group, set up by a three Irish women as soon as campaigning began in earnest for Ireland’s abortion referendum. The group, which supported an overturning of Ireland’s strict abortion ban, aimed to raise funds for the thousands of Irish people living overseas who would otherwise struggle financially to return home to vote. I joined as soon as I caught wind of it, thankful for a practical way I could contribute to a vote I cared about.
“Photos were posted of tribes of women arriving at Dublin airport, greeted by families brandishing huge Repeal banners.”
As the group numbers swelled and Friday 25 May drew ever closer, the page was updated with one amazing story after another. Flights from as far away as Sydney, Australia were funded in a matter of minutes. Photos were posted of tribes of women arriving at Dublin airport, greeted by families brandishing huge Repeal banners. Voters in matching black Repeal jumpers were videoed chanting and singing on the ferry over from Holyhead. A pair of Yes voters even found each other on a flight from Buenos Aires.The joy and emotion didn’t die down after Ireland voted at long last to make abortion legal, which is why I’ve been so glued to Facebook since. It’s rare to see this level of unfettered happiness on social media, not least within the confines of the abortion debate. No gloating, no sniping, no snide comments. Just elation (and a tidy helping of relief) that a law which caused such pain and suffering has at long last been repealed.However, this positivity certainly hasn’t been echoed in the wider discourse. McGuirk, a Save the 8th spokesperson called for the majority to “accord respect and kindness to a lot of people who are very upset”. Matthew Parris wrote, with hand-wringing concern, for The Times about the evils of ‘Abortion Triumphalism’. Social media commenters expressed distaste at people “joyously celebrating the right to end the lives of babies”, “throwing a party”, crying out for “a little more dignity”. And across the border, DUP leader Arlene Foster stated that this result would not affect Northern Ireland abortion rights – that this was an “extremely sensitive issue and not one that should have people taking to the streets in celebration”
“It’s true of course that abortion is a difficult, heart-rending choice for many. But for others, it’s simple and it’s instant. It’s the only choice that will let them live the life they want.”
Of course, it would naive to expect the historically pro-life DUP, or indeed any other anti-choice groups to celebrate the abortion reforms, but these comments reflect a wider problem with the way abortion is discussed. During the months leading up to the vote, I saw abortion being repeatedly described as something ‘no-one wants’, and a ‘necessary evil’ – from both pro- and anti-choice campaigners. It’s true of course that abortion is a difficult, heart-rending choice for many. But for others, it’s simple and it’s instant. It’s the only choice that will let them live the life they want. And no, I’m not claiming that anyone is really enjoys an abortion. But no-one enjoys dental surgery, a heart bypass or a kidney transplant, but we still recognise them as life-saving procedures. Yet we still demand that women tie themselves into knots, express regret and shame, focus on the ‘hard cases’ in order to warp themselves into a narrative which deems their choice ‘acceptable’.
We need to carry on shouting about abortion, to make our voices heard, despite the discomfort of those who would rather women stayed silent and demure about this result. The historic victory in Ireland came thanks to the passion and the determination of grassroots, women-led campaigners who refused to be forced into a stifling narrative. Abortion is not just a necessary evil, or a terrible, regretful choice. It is a fundamental part of women’s healthcare and liberation. Repeal the 8th dragged abortion out from a shadowy, shameful past and out into the open. We owe it to the women in Northern Ireland, and to all those who have had to make (and will continue to make
) a terrifying and expensive journey to obtain reproductive healthcare, to make sure that it stays there.