In just a couple of months, we could see a gargantuan victory for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy in the South with the Repeal referendum. The potential for discarding of the Eighth Amendment – which equates the existence of a foetus to the life of the women carrying it – and abortion being made available up to 12 weeks upon request is historic.
The possibility of such a blow to the Church’s domination of women’s lives has been spurred on by mass protests, with young people and women at their fore. The Irish establishment is under huge pressure for change, reflecting a profound shift in public attitudes, which explains why Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin – the leaders of the two main right-wing parties – now say they support the 12-week threshold, albeit reluctantly.
However, we cannot take them at their word and nothing is guaranteed. We must actively fight for our rights. So far, we have seen gruesome campaigns from the anti-choice movement and it is undeniable that conservative politicians will fight to prevent women and pregnant people from gaining control of our own bodies. Therefore, it is necessary for a mobilisation of people from below to ensure Repeal and radical abortion reform stays on the agenda.
ROSA’s campaign shapes events
The work of socialist-feminist group ROSA and Women on Web was crucial to normalising discussions about abortion pills. Right-wing politicians acknowledged that the fact these pills work safely up to 12 weeks was why that threshold was chosen. Initiatives such as the abortion pill train, buses and drone raised awareness of their availability and safety. ROSA has shown that taking a bold approach to this fight has an impact.
The disparity in women’s rights that exists between Northern Ireland and Britain is disgraceful: the 1967 Abortion Act was passed over half a century ago but still hasn’t been extended to Northern Ireland. Courts here continue to criminalise women who use the pills, while at least 700 travelled to England for NHS abortion clinics in 2016.
NI – We won’t be left behind!
None of our main parties will support a woman’s right to choose. Despite their claim to support ‘equality for all’, Sinn Féin in reality only support abortion in cases of sexual crimes and fatal foetal abnormalities, making their position the most conservative of all parties in the Southern parliament. Northern leader Michelle O’Neill has emphasised their opposition to the extension of the ’67 Act, showing the true colours of her party and how they cannot be relied on to deliver for women in Northern Ireland.
We will not be left behind. Polls have continuously shown growing support for abortion reform and we need a movement that reflects this. Lessons can be taken from the South in building a bold pro-choice struggle that’s consciously built on a cross-community basis to demand full bodily autonomy.