Why I’m Marching: Maximum Energy and Effort Deserves more than the Minimal Level of Provision.

Photograph of Aideen O'Shaughnessy wearing a Repeal jumper

In the run up to the March for Choice on September 28th, we are inviting our supporters to share with us what this year’s march means to them as part of our ‘Why I’m Marching’ blog series. If you would like to contribute, please send us your written blogs (up to 700 words) or video blogs (with captions, up to 1 min.) to [email protected] alongside a picture of yourself and short introduction (optional). #ARCMarch19 #NoOneLeftBehind

Today’s blog post comes from Aideen O’Shaughnessy who is a PhD student and a member of the ARC media working group.

“So, what’s your PhD about then?” The dreaded question. Each time I’m asked, I give a different answer – not because I’m trying to confuse people, but because my life as a PhD student is a constant process of trying to un-confuse myself. In the loosest terms, my research ties together the sociology of reproduction and sociology of the body – essentially, I’m interested in the different logics by which we understand our bodies and where and why this matters for reproductive politics. When I talk to people abroad about the context for my research, I’m usually met with a mixture of intrigue and celebration – “Wow, Ireland, things seemed to have changed overnight there, didn’t they?” From an external perspective, this may well appear to be the case; within the space of only a few years, Ireland went from having its abortion ban challenged (more than once) by the U.N. Human Rights Committee to introducing abortion rights by an overwhelming majority in a popular vote. The reality of the pace of change is, as we know, far more complex.

There was an overnight change though, I think – not necessarily in attitudes, norms or laws – but in feelings, emotions and in our bodies. The day after the vote, I flew to Amsterdam. The experience of queuing in airport security alongside so many ‘Home-to-Voters’ is one I’ll never forget. I cried all day on the 25th, and more on the 26th; much to the misfortune of the friendly Australian pair who, having seen my jumper, asked me to explain the results of the referendum and were instead subject to my blubbering all over them as we waited at the gate. In the past year, I’ve spoken at length with ‘Repealer’ friends about the emotional toll of campaigning; but there was a great emotional burden too in simply living under the 8th. Whether you were forced to travel for an abortion or had your autonomy, health or life jeopardized during pregnancy or not; simply living with the constant knowledge that these were situations in which one could find oneself was collectively traumatic. What changed overnight I think was the removal of this symbolic weight. The tears I shed in the airport were tears of exhaustion, of joy and of pure catharsis – I felt my whole body decompress, as if finally coming out of the brace position.

So much did not change overnight however. It was September 2018 by the time the 8th amendment was officially removed from the constitution, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act was signed into law only in December 2018 and the first abortion services were rolled out in January of this year. Whilst abortion might be legal in certain circumstances, it far from accessible – with rural, migrant and disabled women and people facing substantial logistical and financial barriers. The three-day waiting period currently required between first contact with a G.P and accessing abortion services creates additional difficulties for those who have to travel long distances to providers. There have been operational difficulties in rolling out services across our national maternity units, not to mention the ongoing issues in relation to conscientious objection. Moreover, for people facing a diagnosis of severe foetal abnormality, the pathways to care in this country are still unclear.

The weight of the 8th might be gone, and good riddance – I know I breathe freer and sleep easier knowing we’ve banished it to the annals of history – but bodily autonomy, reproductive justice, these are not things which we can write down in laws to secure them forever. They must be sewn and resewn not only into legislation but into the fibers of our community, into our healthcare system, into our relationships, into how we talk about our bodies and about reproduction. We have come far in this country, it’s true, but there’s so much more left to do; it is important to remember that the fight for basic reproductive freedoms for those in the North is far from won, and we must lend our support and solidarity to this movement in any way we can. This year’s March is important because Repeal activists gave their all to this campaign; we deserve more than the minimum level of provision, we deserve for nobody to be left behind.