‘Repeal’ campaigners urge choice for women

by Louise Doyle
SIXTY three women from Donegal travelled to an abortion clinic in 2016 to access a termination, a public meeting on repealing the Eighth Amendment heard.  
Dublin based People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith was guest speaker at last Tuesday night’s event in Letterkenny Community Centre. She was joined on the panel by Derry-based community worker, Amie Ní Ghallachóir. 
Many dressed in ‘Repeal’ and ‘Together For Yes’ T-shirts attended the event, at which the Dublin South-Central TD told of her own experience of having an abortion in Liverpool in the 1980s when she was in her 20s, just a couple of years after the Eighth Amendment – a constitutional ban on abortion – was introduced by referendum. 
“In all of those  years, I never really talked about it. You would never say it in work because there was a stigma attached to it. Then, I talked about it as a TD.”
She spoke of two women she met in the same clinic, one of whom who was a mother and who was in an abusive relationship, and had to borrow money from moneylenders to have the abortion. 
“When we had people giving evidence before the Oireachtas; doctors from Holland and lawyers from Denmark talking about abortion and the experience of sex education, contraception and abortion they were struck by the legacy that things like that are not talked about in Ireland.”
Bríd pointed to the tragic situations of Ann Lovett, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who died giving birth beside a grotto in 1984 and Savita Halappanavar, who died from complications of septic miscarriage. 

A section of the crowd that attended a Repeal the Eighth Amendment public meeting in Letterkenny

“This has not only been 34 years of a denial of women’s rights but some of the most barbaric events of treatment of women in this country,” she said. 
“In Donegal in 2016, 63 women gave Irish addresses in abortion clinics, but that doesn’t include those who didn’t give Irish addresses, and it doesn’t
include young women mainly who may have accessed the abortion pill online. We’re looking at a big dose of hypocrisy if we keep denying abortion isn’t really a reality in Ireland.”
Ms Smith said she believes a major systemic change is on the horizon for women, strengthened in ways by public reaction to the treatment of the woman at the centre of the Belfast Rape Trial and supported by a trending ‘Me Too’ campaign in the States. 
She said the time was now to win or lose the campaign. 
“Something is different for women and we are seizing the moment and seeing it as a major fight, but at the heart of all this is women’s rights. 
“We want to see a country where choice means choice. Look at where the issue of health and women have led us to today with the cervical screening fiasco.  
“Having real choice means having access to the basics such as housing, health and education. There are so many reasons why women would chose to terminate a pregnancy, and many of them are personal and many of them are tragic. It is deeply inhumane for those who argue against abortion rights in Ireland. The statistics show that 98 per cent of all abortions take place before 12 weeks. How do you treat a woman that says she has been raped? Do you force her into the courts?”
Ms Smith said the issue around maternal care also needs to be examined. 
“Maternity is out of the control of the woman.  It’s the one part of your life when you go into hospital that you don’t get to give your permission to any procedure that may or may not happen.
“This campaign is ours to lose and it’s ours to win.” 
Community worker, Amie Ní Ghallachóir, said if the Amendment is repealed there could be a real opportunity for a campaign movement in the North, if the government gets back on track. 
“It’s time to end the stigma and shame and I really hope the country stands with women on May 25 and a Repeal Bill is implemented to make free, legal and safe access to abortion a reality in all of Ireland.” 

Brid Smith, left, People Before Profit TD, Jade McCauley, chair of the event and Amie Ni Ghallachoir, guest speaker.

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