In September 1983, article 40.3.3 – the eighth amendment – was voted inscribe the Irish constitution, making the life of an unborn child legally equal to that of its mother. On May 25, 2018, the constitutional ban on abortion was voted out of the constitution and legally removed from Irish law in September, putting an end to more than thirty years of taboo and to painful and secret travels over the channel.
Indeed over 160,000 women since the 1980s sought help outside of their country to access abortion. As the Repeal the 8th Campaign started, an estimate of 12 women a day still had to resort to temporary exile. The struggle for women’s bodily autonomy was a national movement which saw the grass-root mobilizations of medical experts, artists, men and women across the country. Every single of them, from the canvasser to those who spoke out on national TV, should be thanked and this award is, in a way, goes to every single one of them.
However, we have selected four women to whom we would like to give special thanks and recognition for their involvement, relentless dedication and bravery throughout the campaign. It takes a lot to create a movement, and for conversation to take place but those women’s bright and loud voices participated in breaking the silence.
Actor and Writer Tara Flynn had not planned to become one of the faces of the campaign, but when she spoke of her experience in one-woman show Not A Funny Word, - how she fled in Netherlands, the rage she felt at not being able to get access to proper care in her country – her story resonated with many a woman which lived through the same trauma. Speaking up about such private issues, opening up yourself to online and social media abuse requires an amount of strength and resilience which deserve to be praised.
Clothes can say who you are, and as such, can also be used as a political and campaigning tool. Anna Cosgrave quickly realized this as she came up with and designed what would become a symbol of the campaign: the white-on-black repeal sweater. A statement of solidarity, a taboo-breaker and a funding resource for volunteers, Cosgrave’s Repeal Project gave impetus and support to the cause.
Ailbhe Smyth has been fighting for women’s rights – including that over their bodies and their own sexuality – since the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s. A topic she is well versed in as both activist and academic: she is indeed the founding director of the Women’s Education, Resource and Research Centre (WERRC) at University College Dublin. Smyth has campaigned in all of the Irish abortion referendums. In 2014, she co-founded the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, for which she is now convenor and spokeswoman.
Gaye Edwards and her husband Gerry directly suffered from the abortion ban put in place by the eighth amendment. While some argued against its removal because of moral concerns and religious beliefs, the Edwards had to go forward with the pregnancy and birth of a child they knew would not be able to live. The Edwards travelled to Belfast, where Gaye was induced. Shocked by the fact that she couldn’t receive the same support she had got in the UK at home, saddened by the idea that many other women faced a fate similar to hers, Edwards became a voice of the Together for Yes. Despite the tragic experience she has lived through, Edwards’d decision to share publicly her story participated in putting an end to the side tragic side of Irish history made of laundries, boats, planes.
Fin Gael Senator Catherine Noone has been an advocate for children’s health and wellbeing throughout her career. She acted as chair of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment which recommended that Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution be repealed: throughout the campaign, her patience, calm and diplomacy allowed for honest and informative debates inside the committee.
Tomorrow we have a once in a generation opportunity to reform our laws when it comes to the way we as a country treat women in crisis situation.May 24, 2018