A couple of weeks ago, Ethel Buckley, deputy general secretary of SIPTU, Ireland’s largest trade union won my heart. Ethel addressed Glasgow May Day. She spoke about her work and that of our movement in Ireland coming together with Abortion Rights campaigners in a most important decision in a generation for Irish women.
A referendum of Irish citizen on lifting the country’s ban on abortion will be held this week on 25 May. This is a major human rights matter that impacts absolutely directly on women’s physical and mental health too.
Ethel and many others are campaigning positively in the Together for Yes campaign to repeal the 8th
This amendment has been part of Ireland’s constitution since 1983. As a young woman smuggled a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves into Ireland to pass to a sister as this feminist health bible was banned because it provided a few pages of abortion information.
And in 2012 I remember crying when I read of the death of Galway dentist Savita Halappanavar for whom an abortion would have saved her life. At the time I questioned what kind of a society would allow a woman to die so cruelly and unnecessarily in this way.
Ireland currently has the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe which the United Nations refers to as cruel, inhuman and degrading. Cruel to women and girls who are denied the human right of controlling their own bodies. Inhuman towards women like Sativa who paid the ultimate price but also for those who have suffered pregnancy as a result of incest and rape, or those for whom foetal abnormalities are so severe that the chance of a meaningful life are extremely limited.
Irish voters are being asked if want to repeal the eight amendment of the country’s constitution which recognised an equal right to life of both mother and foetus. Since it was put in place 35 years ago women’s autonomy over their own bodies has diminished to that equal to a fertilised egg, and therefore by extension their right to life is lesser than men.
Currently in Ireland, unviable pregnancies can not be terminated. Pregnancies as a result of rape cannot be terminated. Pregnancy that cause physical and mental damage to the mother cannot be terminated. Abortion pills ordered on line are also illegal with a threat of 14 years imprisonment.
Thousands of women and girls each year travel to Scotland and elsewhere in the UK to seek an abortion on the NHS. Many many more are unable to get the money to travel.
And 50 years since the Abortion Act came into force in the UK, the Scottish Trade Union Congress hosted a showing of the film “Kind to women, how the 1967 abortion act changed our lives” along with the Abortion Rights Committee Scotland last week.
Alongside celebrating our achievements at home, we must do what we can for our Irish sisters. I am very proud that working women in PCS union in Glasgow have offered practical solidarity in a small way and have raised funds to assist. Through Home to Vote our donation has gone towards Irish citizens to travel home from around the world.
In the words of a teacher of English as a foreign language in South America we helped go home to vote: “Like loads of people in Ireland, repealing the 8th means a lot to me for many different reasons.
“After hearing so many people telling their stories in the media recently, it makes me even more determined to have my voice heard on May 25th. The 2015 marriage referendum was such a huge moment for Ireland, it would be incredible to be part of the same kind of change again.
“I presumed it wasn’t going to be possible for me to come home due to the cost of flights and my small teaching wage.”
“Absolutely blown away by the incredible support. Thank you so much to everyone who donated to me, I would never have been able to pay for this flight without your help. Cannot put into words how appreciative I am.
“Let’s do this – Tá for mná!”