Today is International Women’s Day. I shall be celebrating by going on the March 4 Repeal which is convening at the Garden of Remembrance in town at 5.30pm.
The March for Repeal is a protest march to pressure the government into naming a date for a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish constitution. This amendment gives explicit recognition to the right to life of an unborn child. In other words it bans abortion and criminalises Irish women who obtain one – by up to fourteen years in the slammer. Regardless of how she got pregnant.
This amendment was introduced into the constitution in 1983. Abortion was already illegal but a shady, catholic group called the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign were worried that some uppity judge might legalise abortion. They wouldn’t put it past some judge with notions to go against the will of sweet Baby Jeebus when determining our nation’s law.
Therefore to insert an amendment into the constitution was a sure fire way of preventing this. Constitutional amendments can only be reversed by a public vote. The vote in 1983 was overwhelmingly passed. This was during the dark times in Ireland, where divorce was illegal, marital rape did not exist, children born to unmarried mothers were bastards, homosexuality was illegal and condoms had only recently been legalised – though you needed a doctors’ prescription to buy them. Strangely the contraceptive pill had never been banned – apparently it wasn’t being used as a family planning method, but merely as a means of regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle. Apparently Irish women had world record breaking levels of irregularity in their cycles, when you consider how many had a prescription for the Pill for this reason.
After this referendum, British telephone directories were removed from Irish libraries as they contained numbers for British family planning services. Magazines like Cosmopolitan and Marie-Claire had specific Irish editions identical to the British editions, save for the fact that the family planning service advertisements at the back were blurred out.
Over 5000 Irish women travelled to Britain each year to terminate their pregnancies. Meanwhile abortion was banned in all circumstances in Ireland -even if the pregnancy was as a result of rape or incest, or if the foetus had a zero chance of survival, or if continuing with the pregnancy was life threatening for the mother. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?
Well in 1993 a fourteen year old had the misfortune to become pregnant as a result of rape. Her parents took her to England for an abortion. They asked the attorney general if tissue from the foetus could be used as evidence to prosecute the rapist. They were informed that abortion was a criminal offence and to get their obstreperous arses back home immediately. It went to the Supreme Court and became known as the X case. The court ruled that abortion was legal if the mother’s life was at risk.
The anti-abortion loons were foaming at the mouth at this decision (well more than they usually foamed anyway). Another referendum was held, which meant that women were now constitutionally permitted to travel abroad for abortion and to obtain information relating to abortions abroad while still in Ireland. Cosmopolitan magazine breathed a sigh of relief.
It was only in 2013 that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act replaced the abortion offences in the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (that toxic law that kept homosexuality a criminal offence in Ireland until 1993). It allowed for a very limited right to abortion – as established by the X Case. It replaced the offence of “unlawfully procuring a miscarriage” -punishable by life imprisonment, with the offence of “destruction of unborn human life” – punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
This replacement act only came about as a result of the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, who died in 2012 in a hospital in Galwway due to complications from a septic miscarriage at 17 weeks, and being denied a termination. A mere twenty years after the X case.
Ireland continues to have one of the strictest anti-abortion regimes in the world.
This Irish government – with its typical cowardice – refuses to announce a referendum to fully repeal the 8th Amendment. They have announced a Citizen’s Assembly to discuss what to do. The only possible outcome of this Assembly is another referendum – but holding this pointless, irrelevant, money-wasting Assembly – and by giving a platform to deranged American, religious extremists who are participating in this Assembly – means they can kick the issue into the future.
(The Irish government also used this time-wasting Assembly to justify the horrifically homophobic – and unnecessary because gay marriage is not mentioned in the constitution – referendum in 2015. Referenda spares the government the hassle of actually doing its job and legislating for socially divisive issues. Let the mob decide on minority or women’s rights).
Meanwhile, in their thousands, Irish women continue to travel to England and Holland and elsewhere to avail of services fully legal in other countries. This figure includes rape victims. It only includes those who can actually afford to go however.
A referendum is needed to repeal the 8th amendment. And then (in an ideal world) the government would legislate to allow women to control their own bodies, however they decided.
I expect this evening’s march to be angrier than the last one I attended last September (see HERE ) .
This could partly be due to fact that the moronic Citizen’s Assembly is currently in progress, wasting everyone’s time through its utter irrelevance.
The anger – I suspect – will be more related to the fact that in the past week a sordid tale of the catholic church’s industrial scale abuse of women and children throughout the twentieth century has re-emerged.
As I mentioned earlier women in Ireland who had the bad luck to fall pregnant out of wedlock were scarlet women, shameful whores who brought disgrace to their family, community, church and themselves. Luckily the nuns of Ireland were lurking in the shadows like preying / praying mantises. They ran Mother and Baby Homes (or Magdalene Laundries). The pregnant women (many only teenagers) would go there – often sent by their families to escape social disgrace; be imprisoned for the duration of the pregnancy; and have her baby snatched by the nuns after birth. The baby would then – if it was lucky – be sold / adopted abroad for about £2000. The proceeds from this international human trafficking remained within the church. The women could then leave the laundry – her secret safe, but separated forever from her child. Often they remained in the Laundry their entire life, working as near slaves for the babysnatchers / nuns. The last laundry only closed in the 1990s.
For the babies not lucky enough to be sold / adopted – they lived lives of brutal poverty, neglect, and near starvation in the laundries. Still separated from their mothers they were sitting targets for sexual abuse by the male clergy. The mortality rate of these children was as high as 30% – extraordinarily high even for the time. The state turned a blind eye. Sure weren’t these children only bastards, begotten of whores? Weren’t they lucky that the catholic church was willing to step in and take care of them?
A Galway historian named Catherine Corless started investigating the Mother and Baby Home / Baby Farm / Concentration Camp in Tuam, County Galway. Between the years 1925 and 1961, she discovered the death records for 796 children, but burial records for only two. Where were the others? It turns out they were buried in an unmarked mass grave, their corpses stuffed into a disused septic tank.
While the story was largely ignored by the Irish media, when it became a big international story it has caused a national outrage in Ireland. For some unknown reason. I say unknown because this is not the first mass grave of stolen babies, to be found in recent years. This is not the first time the church and authorities have expressed their ‘sorrow, disgust and shame’ at what has happened.
This evening’s march to repeal the 8th will be informed by the discovery the Tuam concentration camp. The effort to repeal the 8th is – of course – opposed by the catholic church. Even though the church throughout the 20th century was a practitioner of very late stage abortion – it simply waited until after the baby was born to terminate the child’s life.
I accept that society at the time was different. But the government and society of that time was controlled by the church whose dogma, inhumanity and hatred allowed this to happen.
I hope some other demands will be voiced this evening. We need to repeal the 8th. But we need to do more than that. I want to see every priest and nun who worked in any mother and baby home brought in for police questioning (I think we all know that more mass graves are going to be found). If they knew about or participated in this abuse then they need to jailed – regardless of how old they are. I would also like all catholic owned schools and hospitals to be subject to compulsory purchase orders, where the church will be paid a total of one euro for each property. I want the tax exempt status of the church removed fully. I want the 8th amendment repealed.
It’s the least that the women (and children) of Ireland deserve.