Helen Stonehouse is a queer neurodivergent parent and current co-convener of the Abortion Rights Campaign. Picture is from the last in person March for Choice in 2019, when she was also very tired.
I’m looking forward to marching this year. I know I’ll be standing and placard shaking and shouting in place, not actually marching from point A to B. But taking to the streets feels important. And after 18 months of staying inside, going out cautiously, going back inside again, coming out again hopefully – I am eager to get a megaphone in my hand again.
But I must admit, I am tired. And angry. Really tired and really goddamn angry. I can’t believe I still have to march for reproductive rights, after a landslide public vote, a victory that was celebrated around the world. Except of course, I can believe it – because that’s how it works. We don’t get to sit back on our laurels and spend time just showing off our badge collections and reminiscing about how it used to be so hard for those who wanted an abortion. We have to keep going. Even though I really am very tired.
I know so many of us were so tired after May 25th 2018. Still are so tired. The kind of burnout that comes from years of organising and pushing and fighting – that can take years to get over. I miss those activists I know who stepped back, but I celebrate their work and I love them for taking care of themselves. I also don’t blame anyone who thinks things were ‘sorted’ for abortion rights after Repeal. The media very quickly shifted from “alarmed at the lack of urgency” to “the result was inevitable” and went back to largely ignoring the issue. Once the legislation was through, so did many of the politicians. The establishment was done with us – we’d got everything we wanted, so sit back down and stop fussing.
Except of course, we didn’t get everything we wanted. Don’t get me wrong – we removed the constitutional lie that our bodies were not our own, that our worth was dictated by what we did with our wombs. That is phenomenal and world changing and still gives me shivers when I think about it. But it’s not enough. I want more. I want anyone who needs an abortion to be able to get one, on demand and without apology, as early as possible and as late as necessary. I want equitable access for disabled people, Travellers, migrants, queer and trans people. I want free contraception, evidence-based sex education, supports for single parents, non-judgemental advice for those in crisis, and bereavement support for those who lose a pregnancy. And I’m tired of asking, and the perception that these asks are too much, the idea that we need to moderate our demands to get what we want. We only want the earth.
Every single person who has gotten the abortion they needed – those are victories. And everyone who has faced financial barriers, or had to travel across Ireland to get care, or left the country in a pandemic, or been denied support, or faced harassment at hospitals, or been treated with contempt, or had to fight to get the care they need – each of those is a failure of our government and our health system to live up to the promise of Repeal. There are still, three years later, too many barriers to accessing abortion in Ireland. I’m tired of pointing that out, tired of banging that drum, tired of saying “no actually we always knew this was going to happen, yes we did say so at the time, no the politicians didn’t listen”. Tired deep in my bones. But then I look at the activists standing with me, the generations standing behind me, and my toddler who can almost say “smash the patriarchy”. I look at everything we’ve done, and everything we’ve still got to do. I am tired, and I’m angry, but I’ve got a megaphone. So I march.