Why I’m still marching

Photograph of Helen Stonehouse wearing a blue "Aisghair an Ochtú" sweater, pictured beside a baby in a buggy

Helen Stonehouse

Alright I confess – I won’t actually be marching anywhere this year for International Safe Abortion Day. Perhaps I’ll do a couple of laps of the garden with my toddler, and get my wife to follow us yelling “our bodies, our lives, our right to survive!” Perhaps I’ll even rope the neighbours in to lean over the wall and call us babykillers, just for the feel of the thing. Perhaps not.

This year, I’ll be at home, protesting from my back garden and my couch. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still protesting. I must admit, I’m tired. This year has been a LOT. I wish I didn’t have to protest anymore. I wish – oh how I wish – that removing the 8th Amendment meant that everyone who needed an abortion in Ireland could get one – free, safe, legal and local. A quick skim of Abortion Support Network’s Twitter let’s you know that’s not the case. Pregnant people are falling through the cracks of Ireland’s overly rigid provision. People are still travelling. Fake clinics are still offering “advice” to those in crisis pregnancies. Gowls of every shape and size have harrassed those attending GP surgeries and maternity hospitals. Even *if* the laws allowed for abortion on demand, we’d still be dealing with anti-choicers who frankly don’t care if women die, if perople are denied access to healthcare, or if someone is forced to continue a pregnancy they simply do not want to. So I *wish* that this was all over and done with, that May 25th 2018 was the watershed moment that everyone seems to think it was, that we could just sit this year out and rest.

I’ve volunteered with ARC for about four years now, and this is the first time I’ve really worried about how we’re going to continue. We’ve often done wonderful things with only a handful of people, but everyone just seems so stretched out. I’m still amazed at the work we’ve done – policy submissions on abortion access in Northern Ireland, on telemedicine, on gender equality, and on sex work; collating Repeal memories; organising a virtual march. I saw something on Twitter recently: “A choir can sing a beautiful note impossibly long because singers can individually drop out to breathe as necessary and the note goes on. This is what social activism should be”. Throughout these unprecedented times, I’ve watched burned out activists take a step back to breathe, and those of us with air still in our lungs have tried to keep the note going. But right now it feels like I’m running out of breath and I’m not sure there’s enough of us to hold the tune. Because honestly, we have to. Looking at abortion rights around the globe – this fight is never over. We still need to make our voices heard.

This year, I am still marching in solidarity with abortion activists across Ireland and around the world. I’m still calling for free, safe legal access to abortion for all who need or want it. The pandemic has complicated everything about our lives – but I believe, as strongly as ever, that no one should be forced to continue a pregnancy against their will. And that means abortion without restrictions, on demand and without apology. Sometime next year (if there is a next year, and 2020 doesn’t end with some kind of giant alien swallowing the planet whole), the review process for Ireland’s abortion legislation will begin. Abortion is not yet wholly free, safe and legal across Ireland. It is still partially criminalised in both jurisdictions. Patients and healthcare professionals still face potential harrassment. We still have unnecessary barriers, like the 3 day waiting period in ROI and the “two doctors” requirement in NI, which delay and stigmatise abortion care. And aside from the legal elements, there are still social barriers to care – for disabled people, the Traveller community, undocumented migrants, trans people, and others who are already marginalised in society. We cannot stop this fight now. Even though, honestly, I really wish we didn’t have to keep fighting. So I’ll be making a placard and sticking in it my window, and yelling angrily into the void that is my Twitter feed. Because I’m still here, still angry, still marching, still unapologetically demanding the right to decide what happens to my own body. For myself, for my daughter, and for everyone I’ll never meet who is impacted by this. I’ll hold the note until there’s no breath left in my lungs, and I know that together our voices will carry on.

Join us on September 25-27th for the #CareAtHome Virtual March for Choice