'Politics is Life and Everything to do with it Affects You, Directly or Indirectly'.
In the early hours of a grey Wednesday morning strolling to work, I was suddenly struck by the power and resonance of the line, 'politics is life and everything to do with it affects you, directly or indirectly'. Delivered with the distinctive melodic cadence of the Welsh accent of one of the prominent women involved in the political awakening among women's support groups at the time of the South Wales miner's strike 1984-85, Public Service Broadcasting's track, 'They Gave Me a Lamp' served to further underscore that the result of the upcoming referendum on May 25th, will affect every Irish citizen in some way shape or form and only by voting 'yes' can we achieve the first positive milestone on the road to women's reproductive rights. Here are just three points you might want to consider before voting.
Consider What History Has Taught Us
During my research for my thesis last year which was entitled, 'A woman of rock, carved out of the rocks around her': Female Resilience and the Impact of Motherhood in Three Plays by Marina Carr', I became accurately aware of the problematic and deeply ingrained synonymy of womanhood and motherhood purported by the Irish State and the Catholic Church. My theoretical approach was to blend theories of gender and identity with perspectives on social and political contexts and in order to situate the plays within their historical milieus, I looked at the social climate in Ireland from the 1960s to the 1990s. Since the inception of the State in 1922, 'the Church's dominance over matters of sexuality and reproduction was formalized into law' (Pramaggiorre 114). Women experienced a gradual erosion of their bodily autonomy first with the Censorship of Publications Act which banned books addressing contraception and later, in 1935, with the Criminal Law Amendment, which prohibited the sale and importation of contraceptives. The 1937 constitution consolidated this conservatism by officially endorsing as 'a national goal the women's confinement in domestic sphere' (Pramaggiore 114). It was not until 1985 that the Health and Family Planning Bill permitted regional health boards to legally sell contraception to anyone over eighteen. The policing of reproductive rights in particular led to a trio of devastating cases during the period between 1983 and 1992, namely the so-called Kerry Babies case, the death of fourteen year old Ann Lovett and her baby, poignantly found at a statue of the Virgin Mary in Granard and the infamous 'X Case' of 1992. The 1980's was therefore rightly dubbed by Nell McCafferty, 'a lousy decade for Irish women' and with the harrowing case of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, who was denied a potentially lifesaving abortion because the life of the fetus legally had equal rights to the life of the mother, millennial women continue to experience persecution. Beyond the known cases, countless Irish women with devastating stories too truncated to be threaded into narratives of remembrance have all suffered because the Eight Amendment has prohibited their access to safe and legal terminations in Ireland. With this historical backdrop in mind, I ask that you
Vote From a Place of Compassion
Consider the issue rationally and try to understand that abortion for any woman under any circumstance is never an easy decision - of that I can be sure. Whilst I cannot begin to understand the anguish to be in a situation whereby the pregnancy is unwanted, or conversely very much wanted but that fatal fetal abnormality has been established, no woman enters into abortion lightly. The psychological, physical and financial toll of terminating a pregnancy surely negates the ludicrous argument from the anti-choice side that, if legalized, abortion will become commonplace and replace the use of contraception (*types this whilst vein angrily throbs in forehead). The United Nations has proclaimed the Eight Amendment a violation of human rights and with cases of women being kept alive on life support machines, against the will of their families because she is pregnant, or pregnant women who become diagnosed with cancer being denied chemotherapy, logically I don't know how someone could say that the Eight Amendment does not violate human rights. Then there are those people on the fringes that the Eight affects, healthcare workers who are put in compromising positions legally, people on lower incomes who may not be able to afford to travel abroad for a termination and non-nationals who cannot leave the country. On May 25th, all I would ask is that people vote from a place of sympathy if not empathy, of compassion and above all else remember that you are not being asked what you personally would do in any given situation, you are voting to potentially give the person in the opposite voting booth, the choice to decide what is right for them to do. So please
Be Wary of Untrue and Sensationalist Anti-Choice Propaganda
Note that I chose to say 'anti-choice' and not 'pro-life'. One of my biggest points of contention with the anti-choice side is the deceptive vernacular they chose to pedal their campaigns. Just because I am pro-choice, it does not mean I am in any way anti-life or even pro-abortion. It means that I try to be a liberal and compassionate person who has faith in Irish women to make the right decision for their own lives. Moreover, what another person decides to do with their body is none of anyone else's business. I have seen some highly misleading literature put out by the 'no' side, purporting that abortion on demand will become rife and that late stage terminations will be ubiquitous if the Eight is repealed. This is untrue. If a yes vote carries, terminations will be regulated and will only be permitted in certain circumstances, such as if the woman's life is under threat or in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities. Whilst the Oireachtas will ultimately compose the wording of the new law, our vote determines whether there will be a change or not.
So please vote with a liberal, progressive and compassionate frame of mind on May 25th and Repeal the Eight Amendment. We could see a positive change for Irish women if a yes vote wins. To return to the final words in 'They Gave Me a Lamp', 'I've been in front, I have never give in...and I am very proud of it, and I'll be proud to look back on it.'
Pramaggiore, Maria. '"Papa Don't Preach": Pregnancy and Performance in Contemporary Irish Cinema'. The Irish In Us: Irishness, Performativity, and Popular Culture, edited by Diana Negra. Duke UP, 2006, pp.110-130.
'They Gave Me a Lamp', Public Service Broadcasting, 2017.