Ireland's REPEAL THE EIGHTH: "THIS IS NOT A BLACK AND WHITE ISSUE"

 


6 MIN READ

Repeal the 8th

On May 25, Ireland will vote on the referendum concerning the regulation of termination of pregnancy.

Kate Larkin speaks to us as a YES campaigner, parent, women's rights activist, and woman who is seven months pregnant.

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She's been called a "man-hating feminazi" (delightful), but remains hopeful that the Eighth Amendment will be repealed. Here, she passionately explains what this referendum means for her, and so many others, and why it's so important.

Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. Malta – where abortion is banned in all circumstances – is the only member state where abortion laws are more restrictive. 

Currently, the Irish constitution contains an article that equates the life of a fetus to that of the woman carrying it. This referendum is about removing that article so abortion can be legislated for. The Eighth Amendment also affects a woman's choices in maternity care. 

FACT: Abortion is only legal in Ireland where there is an "imminent and substantial risk to a woman's life, including suicide." 

FACT: A woman can not get an abortion in Ireland if she is pregnant due to rape.

FACT: A woman can not get an abortion if she is carrying a fetus that will not survive outside the womb. In cases of a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, a woman currently has to travel to the UK or another EU country should she wish to terminate the pregnancy.

FACT: In 2014, on average, 10 women travelled from Ireland to Britain every day for an abortion. There are no numbers available to account for the number of women who travelled to other European countries. 

FACT: Any woman or girl who procures an abortion, or anyone who assists a woman to provide an abortion in Ireland, may be criminalised and imprisoned for up to 14 years.

I think whatever way the vote goes on May 25, it will be a very tight margin. The NO campaign has huge funding from US bodies, the catholic church among other sources. 

The YES side is mostly comprised of volunteers like myself and some very dedicated full-time activists, campaigners, medical and legal professionals, and spokespeople. 

Over the past year there have been incredible fundraising drives all over the country. People have been running events, canvassing drives, fun runs, coffee mornings, art exhibitions, table quizzes, and given up so much of their time to this campaign. 

We have raised a lot of funds, but there is always a worry that we are not reaching every part of Ireland, particularly in more rural areas, where voters have traditionally been more conservative in their views.

I have heard the most heartbreakingly tragic stories from women and girls of all ages who have found themselves in crisis pregnancies. These range from incidents of rape to teenage pregnancy to domestic abuse to married women of my own age (late 30s/early 40s) who have been diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities for a very-much-wanted baby.

It's devastating and the stories are so diverse. I also have had at least 15-20 personal friends over the years, who have had to travel to avail of abortion services. It is a lot more common that people realise. There has just been so much shame and stigma around it, nobody ever opened up about it before now.

More personal stories have been shared on this amazing Facebook page. Some are very upsetting to read, but people need to know that this is happening. 

Photo via: Roisín Dennis, @badgalro

Photo via: Roisín Dennis, @badgalro

If someone is a hard NO, there is no point in wasting time trying to convince them. Their views are black and white, and this is not a black and white issue. 

The people I need to speak to are those who are undecided or uninformed. I ask them if they have decided how they will vote and if they say they haven't, I will give them some information and examples of people I know personally who have had to travel, to explain that it is not all black and white and unless we vote YES, these tragic stories will continue to happen.

[This referendum] is about empowering women and that means fighting for basic human rights like bodily autonomy, choice and consent. As with the global feminist movement we've seen recently, this empowerment applies to all areas of life, from encouraging body positivity and gender equality among our children, to choices in pregnancy and childbirth, to addressing the huge issues around equality in the workplace with things like flexible working and equal pay.

It's not just about terminating pregnancy, either. Choice in maternity care is also a huge factor. 

I had my first little girl two years ago and the labour process was nothing short of terrifying – 48 hours of hell, and overcrowded and understaffed hospital conditions that meant my choices ended up being very limited. 

Without going into detail, I had procedures performed without my consent and it all felt very out of control. There were a number of mistakes made along the way and a lot of things went wrong, which resulted in fetal distress and an emergency c-section at the final hour. 

As a mother of daughters, I feel it is so important for me to fight for their future so they never have to experience this oppression and disregard for women. I want them to grow up in a country where there is compassion and trust in women to make decisions for themselves, as opposed to being talked down to by extremist institutions like the catholic church who have no respect for women (or children!). If I had little boys, I would feel the same – this law affects men, too. 

[The energy in Ireland right now is] tense. But hopeful. It has been a long, tough, divisive campaign, and for many, a very personal and painful journey. A lot of people feel very strongly one way or the other, and there have been some heated incidents recently around the country as voting day approaches. 

By the same token, as someone who has been campaigning for the past year or so, I feel the support for the YES side has increased and intensified over the last few weeks, which is heartwarming and encouraging.

As a pregnant woman in a Repeal top, I have been met with all sorts of abuse! I've been told I ought to be ashamed of myself. I've been called a “crazy, far-left, man-hating feminazi” (I thought that was a particularly amusing one!), one of a “pack of bleedin' sickos” and a “murderous pack of f*ckers”! That shows you what we are dealing with. 

Most people are supportive, understanding, and lovely, though, and I've had a huge amount of respect shown to me for getting out looking like a little round spud in a too-small Repeal jumper! 

I feel like a bit of an emotional wreck at times, but onwards and upwards. Fingers and toes crossed for Friday! 

Read more about the campaign: 
Refcom 
Together for Yes 
Abortion Rights 
TFMR Ireland 

Kate is an agency producer/production director. In her spare time she designs and makes baby clothes and home textiles. She campaigns for women's rights, helps to organise community arts and fundraising events and makes the odd short film. She loves animals and shares her crazy home with an overweight, ever-smiling, golden retriever and a controlling cat.

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Thanks to Kate Larkin for her generous time and contributing words

Read this interview in Issue #4

 

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