Why I’m Marching: If we stand still, we’ll be pushed back

Sam Boland is a member of Rebels For Choice

Sam Boland and his daughter, Ivy, standing with their backs to the camera, both wearing Together for Yes hi-vis vests.
Ivy, Sam, and their puppy Truffles, handing out Together for Yes leaflets on St Patrick St, Cork, in May 2018

Like most of us, for me, ‘Why I March?’ is in fact two questions – who I march for, and why.

In 2018, I repealed for lots of people, but if I had to narrow it down to one person, it was for my daughter, Ivy, who was nine at the time. Primarily, I repealed so her reproductive future would be in her own hands, not the Church’s, not the State’s, but also I wanted her to learn from real life, not a Disney movie, that if you’re brave and stand up for what’s right, you’ll make other people brave and they’ll stand with you. After all, that’s the story of abortion rights in Ireland going back generations. 

So Ivy and I repealed together. We went on marches together, we handed out leaflets together, we made badges and banners together. And on May 26, we celebrated together. Ivy was part of that story, of brave women (and a handful of men) who triumphed over seemingly insurmountable odds by standing up and being brave.

Ivy’s 13 now, and the world is a very different place. Ivy’s different too – new friends, new interests, new things to do on a Saturday afternoon (she’s marching because her dad is dragging her!), but the lessons of 2018 have stuck fast. And now she’s older, sadly it’s time for a harder lesson – that no matter how convincingly you win, you have to defend what you’ve won. The forces we overcame in 2018 won’t slink away with their tails between their legs. It’s not fair, cries the nine-year-old in all of us. But through long, hard experience, we know it’s true. Which brings us to why I march.

We don’t have to look as far as Texas or Alabama, and how they nullified Roe vs Wade, to see it. On May 26, 2018, while Ivy and I and everyone else celebrated, Ireland’s anti-abortion fundamentalists began planning how to erode reproductive rights here. Their first victory came seven months after Repeal, with the restrictive Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. While we were recovering from the fight of our lives, anti-abortion lobbyists pounced. The result? The three-day waiting period; impossible standards for terminations in the case of fatal fetal anomaly; no safe access zones; no free contraception; no secular sex education; no decriminalisation; no trans-inclusive language. What we have are inaccessible rights, and they’re no rights at all.

And that is the new tactic of anti-abortion fundamentalists everywhere, from Alabama to Athy, from Texas to Tyrone: forget winning the argument, just poison the well. Make abortion so difficult to access that it doesn’t matter whether it’s legal or not. Hence the intimidation and harassment outside abortion providers in Ireland. Hence only 10% of our GPs and half of our maternity hospitals providing abortion services. And you can be certain they’re pushing for further restrictions in the upcoming review of the legislation.

This is why I march. Not just to extend our limited abortion laws, but to make sure what we have isn’t taken from us. I don’t want Ivy to have to fight this fight all over again. If we stand still, we’ll be pushed back. So we have to keep marching forward. So what if our numbers are smaller than they were in 2018? The key is to keep marching. Did the first March for Choice have those numbers? No, and that march eventually led to Repeal. The key is to keep marching! Stand up, be brave, march!