Pro-choice activists of all nationalities gathered in Manhattan on Saturday to call for a referendum on the Irish constitution’s eighth amendment, which equates the life of a fetus to the life of the pregnant woman, making abortion legal in Ireland only if there is an immediate threat to the woman’s life. Abortion is illegal in instances of incest or rape, as well as in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities.
The New York rally, largely comprised of Irish diaspora, was one of many held in solidarity with Ireland’s own March for Choice, which was organized by the Abortion Rights Campaign and saw over 20,000 campaigners take to the streets of Dublin on Saturday. Other participating cities in the US included San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, with additional rallies in cities around the world, including London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Utrecht, Toronto, and Melbourne. All participants took to social media with the hashtag #arcmarch16 to ensure that, regardless of distance, their voices were heard by the Irish government.
The New York branch of “Repeal Global” began at 8am outside Dr. Emily’s Women’s Health Center in the Bronx, where a portion of the campaigners were provided with official training by clinic escorts on supporting and attending the needs of patients as they entered and left the premises.
At midday, a crowd of demonstrators set up outside of the Irish Consulate on Park Avenue. They carried a signs bearing phrases which have been adopted by the campaign over the years, such as “Silence is Stigma,” “Women are Not Wombs,” “Our Bodies, Our Choices, Our Rights,” and, in a direct statement to the political powers across the Atlantic, “We Can See You, Enda.”
An open forum of personal speeches was introduced by event co-organizer and Kilkenny-native Aoife Kelly, 24, who read “Dear Enda,” an address published early last week by Irish social media group Scarlet Brigade for the attention of the Taoiseach. An excerpt read:
“I write to you as someone from ‘generation emigration,’ who would love to one day move back to this beautiful country of ours. But why would we? Why would any of us move back to somewhere that denies us bodily autonomy? Denies us choice? Why would we move back to a country that does not trust us? That does not give us the freedoms we so rightly deserve as human beings?”
Other members of the demonstration then had the opportunity to speak out, with several sharing their own thoughts and experiences on the current state of Ireland’s abortion laws.
Under the 8th amendment, the act of self-administering abortion pills is criminalized. An average of 11 women in Ireland cross international waters each day in order to legally terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
“The end of a pregnancy is not an easy thing, regardless of how it comes about,” said author and Rutgers University professor Belinda McKeon, originally from Co. Longford. “The idea of so many Irish women having to travel to another country, having to wander around another city in pain [...] We’re asking for it not to continue any longer, for a repeal of the eighth amendment, and for Ireland to change this law so that it becomes, finally, the progressive twenty-first century country that it likes to pretend in places like New York, at the Irish Consulate, that it already is.”
“I haven’t been in the U.S. that long, but this event has been my first real point of connection with home since I arrived here,” said recent Trinity College graduate David Walsh. “I was initially quite sad to be missing out on the march in Dublin, but it’s fantastic to know that there are people all over the world so ready to show their support.”
“Our voices will be heard,” asserted Guardian journalist and author Emer O’Toole as the speeches drew to a close. She went on to summarize the essence of the campaign in three words: “Courage, strength, and solidarity.”
The demonstration finished with the distribution of informational leaflets about the realities of abortion in Ireland, which noted that the country has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the entirety of the European Union, despite over 80% of Irish voters stating their support of repealing the eighth amendment in an Amnesty International survey. In June of this year, the U.N. proclaimed that the government's denial of abortion in the case of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities was “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.”
When the country legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, Irish diaspora traveled home in droves in order to return in time to vote in favor of making that change. If Saturday’s international displays of support are any indication, a future repeal of the eighth amendment would see history eagerly repeat itself.