Repeal The 8th — A movement born out of frustration and necessity.
Dripping water hollows out the stone, not through force but through persistence. The struggle of women’s rights in Ireland has been a long and bloody one, from the atrocities of the Magdalene laundries from marital rape only becoming illegal in 1990, Ireland has a shameful past when it comes to women’s rights and the battle is far from over.
Between 1980 and 2015 at least 166,951 Irish women and girls were forced to travel overseas from The Republic of Ireland to access essential abortion services per statistics provided by the UK department of Health.
Ireland, both North and South has the most restrictive abortion laws anywhere in the developed world, whereupon up until 2014 abortion was prohibited in all cases and it still remains a controversial topic to this day.
In the Republic of Ireland, the termination of a pregnancy is only permitted under a strict set of circumstances; only when there is a severe risk of loss of life from either physical illness or the mother has been deemed to be suicidal.
The abortion rights campaign and coalition of pro-choice group, in the republic of Ireland have called for and referendum in order to repeal the eighth amendment of the constitution to allow Irish women the right to safe abortions without the need for travel. To this end, the campaign ‘Repeal The Eighth’ was established and has been a focal point for endless debates on Irish television, radio and parliament.
The campaign refers to the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution which gives explicit recognition to the right to life of the unborn child, this in turn has led to a constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland. Historically speaking Ireland has been a devoutly Roman -Catholic country, with the church extending ecclesiastical social control and waving a heavy hand of influence in the affairs of Government.
As seen with the 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage, whereupon Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage by popular vote; Ireland is becoming an increasingly liberal and secular society and the church’s control of Irish society is diminishing.
An event that could be noted as a turning point in the Irish pro-choice movement was that of the death of Indian born 31-year-old dentist Savita Halappanavar. Savita was 17 weeks pregnant at the time and after being admitted to Galway University Hospital complaining of severe back pain, it was found that she was miscarrying.
The doctors who were tending to Mrs Halappanavar refused to carry out an abortion as there was a fetal heartbeat, her husband Praveen Halappanavar said that staff at the hospital that Ireland was a catholic country. Savita Halappanavar died of septicemia on the 28th October 2012 because she was refused what would have been a routine medical procedure in other countries.
In the aftermath of Mrs Halappanavar’s death, there was outrage both in Ireland and on the international scene, protests were held outside the Irish embassies in Berlin, Brussels and London. Amnesty International released a statement claiming that Mrs Halappanavars death illustrated a gap in Irish law and that advocated Ireland reform it’s laws in accordance to international convention.
Progress has been made, which can be seen in the 2016 case of Mellet V Ireland, the United Nation’s Human Rights court found that Ireland’s abortion laws violated international convention on civil and political rights. The UN committee found that Irish law had failed to protect women from inhuman and degrading treatment as; the need for travel to access services exacerbated anguish associated with a pregnancy affected with fatal foetal abnormality.
Large scale protests, and what are better known in Ireland as civil demonstrations have taken place over the issue, most recently on International Women’s day, an estimated 15,000 voiced their concerns. Marching from the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square to Leinster House, the parliament of Ireland, the demonstrators called for the removal of the constitutional ban on abortion.
The movement has not been confined to Irish shores, with the hashtag #StrikeForRepeal and #RepealThe8TH trending globally on International Women’s Day, along with over 50 marches held world-wide, from Cork to Sydney, Derry to New York the world took notice of the plight of Irish women.
Due to the inability to access an abortion in their own country and with some unable to afford travel expenses many Irish women have taken an alternative option in regards to terminating their pregnancy. Data provided by ‘Women on the Web’, an organisation that offers abortion pills online shows that some Irish 5,650 women between 2010–2015 have bought the pills that will terminate their pregnancy.
The pills which are provided free by the organisation are illegal in Ireland but occupy a grey area in the law, which has resulted in no one being arrested for possession of the pills, but customs do seize any intercepted shipments. In Northern Ireland, where abortion is illegal as well, the use, or providing access to such pills carries heavy legal ramifications and perpetrators can face up to life imprisonment.
The campaign ‘Repeal The Eighth’ has received numerous endorsements from prominent Irish celebrities. Hoizer, of ‘Take me to Church’ fame has been to demonstrations in Dublin advocating his support for the campaign
Social commentators, artists and activists ‘The Rubber Bandits’ have used various media appearances such as talk shows to debate the issue and have taken to social media to voice their support of the Repeal The Eighth campaign.
Perhaps what is most striking of all has been a video featuring numerous Irish TV stars advocating for progress on the issue. Amassing 132,000 views on YouTube alone the viral video ‘We Face This Land’, is a stark reminder of how atrociously women have been treated in Ireland throughout history.
Repeal the eighth is more than a campaign, it is emblematic of women’s struggle in Ireland, progress cannot be made without deviation from the norm and it is time that for Irish Government to take notice and offer the public the referendum. With the fall of the church coinciding with the rise of social media allowing people to organise demonstrations and voice their concerns if ever there was time for substantial change in Ireland it is now.