Lyn Brookes – Leitrim ARC
I arrived in Ireland in October 2008 aged 48 years. I had a hysterectomy at 33 so things like contraception and unexpectedly finding myself pregnant was not a concern I had. Besides, I had lived in a country where contraception was free and available to all, I went on the pill at 17 and knew people that had, had abortions if they needed one, that is the right of everyone. Right? How wrong I was.
Every now and again, I would get invitations from Bernie Linnane to come to meetings of the Abortion Rights Campaign. I really did think it was a bit odd and in the end, I said what is this all about? So she told me you can’t have an abortion in Ireland. It took a while for this to sink in. I had heard vague things on the radio, Savita, a half-heard interview on the radio about a fatal anomaly and then the whole thing with a woman, clinically dead on life support who was pregnant, another woman who had been raped and was forced to stay pregnant until they took the baby out of her and kept it in the hospital. I can remember thinking what the **** is going on here? Things suddenly started to click into place. I looked up the 8th amendment. What I saw there as a lay person left me cold. Just a few lines …
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
How could that be right? How does an unborn have the same right to life as a living breathing woman? It got worse; there was an insertion for the Protection of Life during Pregnancy which was supposed to have improved things. That promised an abortion where there was a serious threat to the life of the woman, but it was only on the proviso that certain criteria were met.
I remember sitting there, wondering if I was a doctor, how I would be able to know where this line was, the one between life and death. It also carried a prison sentence of 14 years for any medic found negligent and causing the death of the foetus which had an equal right to life. It dawned on me then that it was easier to let a woman die than to have to make that judgment call.
I went on the canvassing training. I looked around; the room was full of people, women and men. There were three people from Roscommon, that was it. That county had not voted in favour of Equal Marriage and it wasn’t looking good if a referendum to repeal the 8th was called.
I read everything I could find about abortion rights, the cases that had gone on in Ireland in the past. The more I read, the more I couldn’t believe how much shame and stigma women and girls had endured here.
Together for Yes was launched soon after it was announced there would be a referendum. We decided then and there that we were going to hit the ground running and start canvassing the minute the date of the referendum was disclosed.
We were a bit nervous, this is a rural area, what would people say, what would people think? The day we got banned from the village on the St Patricks Day parade was pretty awful. The days that followed though, made us realise that we had support, however quiet it may be. We decided to start canvassing straight away, it would be good to get going on it and hone our skills and by the time we were nearer the date, we would be much better at it too.
I told my partner not to expect to see much of me in the evenings for the next few months because I was going to be busy. And we were busy. Stalls, doorsteps, bridges, The Mart, Hoots for Yes, Cakes for Choice, debates, launches, radio interviews. More and more people started to come out canvassing with us as the conversation normalised around abortion rights. Even Roscommon got a huge canvassing team in the end. When we first started, we had hardly any leaflets, so Bernie got a load printed so we could get going. TFY had hardly any funds in the early days. We were regularly asked when we would be putting up posters to counter the No side’s that had gone up almost overnight since the referendum was announced. Soon, we said, we just need to get the funds. There was a crowdfund launched and people donated in their thousands. We got our posters up, they got ripped down, we put them back up again. We swore, really well, we were the sweariest swearers that ever were, we got swearing down to a fine art. We were women and we were empowered by each other. We would never be the same again, we will never go back in the box.
Losing the referendum was not an option. We were ordinary people, not politicians; we were mostly women and some men with a message. We told the truth, that’s all we did and people know when they are being told the truth
We watched the sun go down on the 8th at Glencar Waterfall, and we hoped, no, we knew we had fucking done it.