Artists group rallies around the repeal of Irish constitutional amendment which makes it unlawful for women to have abortions. They believe it has led to "neglect and mismanagement of women’s care".

Following a contentious referendum campaign in 1983, the 8th Amendment was inserted into the Irish Constitution. This amendment equated the right to life of the unborn with that of the mother and made it effectively unlawful for women to have an abortion in Ireland. Since its insertion, it has been a constant source of controversy, protest, and counter-protest.

The seeds sown in 1983

Prior to the 1983 referendum, there was no clause in the Irish constitution dealing with abortion and the Irish state relied upon sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. It was the pro-choice outcomes of court cases in the UK and the USA that prompted pro-life groups to pressurize the Irish government to insert an amendment into the constitution to prevent abortion ever becoming a reality in Ireland.

It can, therefore, be argued that the seeds of current discontent and division were sown by the pro-life movement to hold this referendum. Without the referendum and the 8th Amendment that followed, Irish legislation could have resolved this matter many years ago.

However, the outcome of that referendum put abortion beyond the powers of the Oireachtas (Irish houses of parliament) alone. These and other such points were argued in detail by the two leading legal minds of the pro-life and anti-amendment campaigns, William Binchy and Mary Robinson respectively, in a TV debate after the 1983 referendum result was announced.

Pro-Choice Activists on O’Connell Street, Dublin.  (via: William Murphy/www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique)

Pro-Choice Activists on O’Connell Street, Dublin.  (via: William Murphy/www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique)

Significant cases

Despite an overwhelming victory for the pro 8th Amendment side, those seeking abortion rights and adequate health care treatment for women never relented.

The X Case

This highlighted further how inadequate the system in Ireland was for dealing with such matters and lead to another referendum in November 1992. The result of this referendum meant that women would no longer be prevented from traveling abroad to get an abortion nor would they be prevented from receiving information about it. However, despite another referendum and further legal amendments, nothing seemed to offer clarity or a definitive position on abortion in Ireland.

Savita Halappanavar

In more recent years the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway in October 2012 forced the Irish Government to act and pass the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013. This allowed for abortions when a woman's life is under threat should her pregnancy continue or in the event that she is suicidal. However, Ireland’s abortion legislation and rights for women were still met with international criticism.

Savita Halappanavar (Via: Becky Magazine/www.flickr.com/photos/beckymagazine).

Savita Halappanavar (Via: Becky Magazine/www.flickr.com/photos/beckymagazine).

Irish Artists

Today as yet another referendum on abortion looms and is poised to take place in May or June of 2018, the campaigns from both pro-life and pro-choice are already underway. On this occasion, Irish artists are getting organized and are fully behind the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment that they believe has to lead to “neglect and mismanagement of women’s care”.

Beginning as a conversation in February 2015 and then buoyed by the same-sex marriage referendum result later that year, Irish artists combined their efforts and started a campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment. One of the organizers of this campaign is artist Cecily Brennan who, along with fellow artist-organizers, was involved in the 1983 referendum campaign.

Brennan feels that the 8th Amendment needs to go or nothing will change for “reproductive rights for women”. In making this come about she feels that artists have a strong role to play as they have done in the past on other social matters.

“Artists have played a major role in shifting cultural, political and moral debate,” says Brennan.

She cites other artists such as Edna O’ Brien, Neil Jordan, Colm Tóibín and Tom Murphy as having created change in Irish society. The latter whose plays she believes have been “really important in changing people’s attitudes towards Ireland.” The actions taken by the artists thus far includes:

Day of Testimonies

On 26 August 2017, a day of testimonies was dedicated to the experiences of real women in Ireland through film, art, and theatre to highlight how women’s health in Ireland is put at risk by the 8th Amendment. Their stories were told through the voices of Irish actors and artists. The day also reminded us that 12 women have to leave Ireland every day in order to have a safe and legal abortion.

Pro-Choice Banners

The banners were made for the pro-choice march in September 2017 and were recently exhibited at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) exhibition. There were three significant banners used at that march with each explained by Dr. Lisa Godson of the NCAD in her article.

Pro-Choice Banners at September 2017 Rally (Via: www.artistsrepealthe8th.com)

Pro-Choice Banners at September 2017 Rally (Via: www.artistsrepealthe8th.com)

The banner in image one above has been explained by the artist as:

“The Dragonslayer is based on a painting in the National Gallery of Ireland 'David slaying Goliath'. Our warrior is a young woman who is vanquishing the vile monster that is the eighth amendment.”

 Pro-Choice Banners at September 2017 Rally (Via: www.artistsrepealthe8th.com)

Pro-Choice Banners at September 2017 Rally (Via: www.artistsrepealthe8th.com)

The front banner in image two above has been explained by the artist as:

“…based on the 'life and experience of an Irish woman' where you see in one image the naked female body being pulled apart by church and judiciary, in another her life's worth is being weighed with that of a man's, at the centre the wheel of fortune represents the lack of choice women have with regard to their reproductive rights and all around the borders we see the silhouettes of the thousands of women pulling their little suitcases who have to go to the UK to access terminations and proper care.”

The center banner in image two above has been explained by the artist as:

“Madonna of the eyes...we have made our concerns for the welfare of women in this country known and we are watching our politicians and public representatives and encouraging them to be brave and take the part of women and repeal the unjust 8th Amendment.”

By just April last year, they had already registered the support of over 3,000 Irish artists who signed the statement calling for the repeal of the 8th Amendment and they are continuing to register more.

Outcome of Referendum

Both an Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment and the Citizen’s Assembly, who separately discussed and examined the issue of the 8th Amendment, recommend a similar abortion approach. They both agree that a termination should be available, without restriction, up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. However, they differed on the main issue of repeal. The Oireachtas Committee recommends that the 8th Amendment be repealed while the Assembly recommend that it be replaced or even further amended.

Brennan is confident that the amendment will be repealed which will finally lead to “reproductive rights for women”. This appears to be in line with the views of the majority of Irish voters with 53% feeling the same. Brennan feels that this has come a long way from three years ago when abortion “wasn’t in the public domain” and repeal did not seem possible.

However, there is of course one caveat - the date of the referendum. Should it be held close to the proposed visit of Pope Francis in August for the World Meeting of Families the result could be drastically affected. The possibility of this happening has, however, been rejected by Ireland's Minister for Health with early summer 2018 being the most likely period for the upcoming referendum.

* For more from Peter Kearney his site, www.baldpolitiks.com.

Irish artists’ marching at pro-choice rally to repeal the 8th AmendmentArtists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment