Abortion Rights Campaign Weekly Media Roundup


Writing I do elsewhere officially counts for my NaBloPoMo. Also, if you read all of my rabbiting on about abortion, you’re probably not entirely uninterested in seeing what some other people have to say.

Welcome to another Weekly Roundup, where each week our media team highlights how abortion is discussed at home and abroad. This week: marking the first anniversary of Savita Halappanavar’s death, calls for revised abortion guidelines in Northern Ireland, and abortion access is under threat in Texas.

-Read the rest over at the Abortion Rights Campaign

 

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Advertising Abortions In The Irish Times


Waking up this morning, I flopped over in bed (almost exactly like how I imagine a sleepy walrus would) as usual, and picked up my phone for a bit of a browse of some news until I felt ready to face the world. I can’t be the only person who does this, can I? Somehow reading news articles in bed feels almost like I’m doing something productive. Almost.

This morning, I was treated to news of an ad in the Irish Times today. Doesn’t sound like news to you? Check this out:

bpas

That, my friends, is one hell of an advertisement. It’s more than an advertisement. It’s a gauntlet thrown at the Irish government to get their act together, grow a pair (of ovaries), and start providing women with the healthcare and bodily autonomy that are our rights. And it manages to simultaneously give essential information to people with crisis pregnancies. I’d have put a hat on just to take it off to them, if I weren’t, as I mentioned, still under my duvet at the time. It was a chilly Saturday morning- I wasn’t getting out of there before I had to, especially not to tip my hat to people who weren’t in the country, never mind the room.

Then I read the comments. I know- don’t read the comments. Unless they’re the comments on a blog with a silly name that seems somehow related to tea. You should read those. In those comments were a few things that I think deserve to be talked about.

What had the charming anti-choice masses of the internet to say?

You’re all a bunch of filthy murderers, tearing babies apart limb from limb

Ah, this old chestnut. The charming characterisation of pro-choice people as slathering, bloodthirsty hordes who love nothing more than dismembering innocents. I imagine that we also take the time to perfect our evil laughs before an entertaining evening spent kicking puppies, stealing sweets from children and then chopping the heads off their favourite teddy bears, yes? Oh, and we never use our indicators, always hold our umbrellas at your eye level, and turn the volume on our headphones up so loud that you can sing along to our earworms from the other side of the bus.

While all of that is of course perfectly true, there is one factual inaccuracy here. It’s the bit about “tearing babies apart limb from limb”. You see, while Irish people have abortions at about the same rate as our UK counterparts, there are a couple of important differences in how it happens, both of which can be traced directly back to the Irish abortion ban.

Irish women have abortions later. And we have more surgical abortions.

We have abortions later- two weeks, on average- because travelling to the UK for a medical procedure is not a simple process. Finding money. Finding a clinic. Finding money for flights- ever had to book Ryanair on short notice? Booking flights and other transport. Can you afford a place to stay? Have you friends to stay with? Getting time off work. Have kids or other dependants? You’ll need to find someone to care for them. Oh, and remember that bit about the money? Time is ticking, and the cost of an abortion is rising with every passing week.

Even when Irish women manage to have abortions early, though, we still end up having surgical abortions far more than our UK counterparts. Why? Medical abortions- that’s the abortion pill- take more time than surgical. Those pills take time to work, and controlled miscarriages can be as painful as natural ones. Despite the fact that many women would prefer medical abortions to having surgery, they often simply can’t afford even more time away from home, as well as the cost of days of accommodation.

So let’s get something straight: if anyone is encouraging women to “tear their babies limb from limb” (a description that is as unpleasantly graphic as it is, in the vast majority of cases, inaccurate), it’s the people who force Irish people seeking abortions to have their abortions weeks later, and to endure more invasive procedures than they need. That’s anti-choicers and the Eighth Amendment, by the way.

But let’s move on, shall we? I have a couple more chestnuts to get through. How about this one:

noplane

Who do BPAS think they are, sticking their noses into Irish business?

On the face of it, this seems legit. Us pro-choice activists are always banging on about how certain anti-choice groups active in Ireland seem to be a little.. further West.. than most of the rest of us. Y’know. A fair bit west. The kind where you set off from, say, Kerry or Galway, point yourself away from land and keep going till you get to the land of s’mores and Taco Bell. If we get to complain about how they seem to get shedloads of money from shady US backers, then they should be able to object to UK organisations taking out ads in our papers. Right?

Wrong, actually.

When we object to things like overseas funding and a strange unwillingness to publish where certain organisations get their money, the point isn’t that some people who happen to live outside Ireland are giving people some money. The point is, in fact, twofold. It’s inappropriate and harmful for people with no stake in, or knowledge of, contemporary Ireland to try to influence our laws- it’s quite frankly none of their business. And hiding that you’re doing so, while pretending that you have vastly more local support than you do, is unethical and dishonest. If you can’t make your point while fighting fair? GTFO.

BPAS, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. Ireland’s ban on abortion doesn’t mean that Irish people don’t have abortions. It means that Irish people get our abortions from English doctors. English hospitals, nurses and doctors do what their Irish equivalents will or can not. They provide the care and services that we need. By banning abortion, Ireland forces itself into a symbiotic relationship with our neighbours. UK hospitals, whether we like to admit it or not, are an integral part of Irish health care.

BPAS aren’t strangers to Irish women. They are the people who, for decades, have stepped up where our country has abdicated responsibility. When Ireland talks about statistics and anonymised cases, BPAS provides services to real people. They are as part of Irish healthcare as my GP down the road. And as the people who care for Irish women, who hear our stories and show us the respect and compassion that our country denies us, they have as much a say in this issue as anyone on this island.

And they write their name on their ad.

This is just a cynical move by those murdering scum to make more profits from killing cute little babies who have toesie woesies and things

This one makes no sense. BPAS are challenging the Irish government to actually get off its butt and decriminalise abortion already. BPAS are a British organisation. Britain is where Irish pregnant people go to get abortions now. Irish pregnant people don’t get NHS treatment, so we have to pay privately for our abortions. If abortion were legal in Ireland, we would have abortions in Irish hospitals and clinics. Not British. This would mean that they would be paid less money by the 12 people a day who wouldn’t need to travel.

It’s called logic.

You know what else, though? I took a look at BPAS’s site today. They have a specific Irish website which I found through their main site. While Irish women cannot access the NHS, BPAS charge us significantly reduced rates than UK private patients. They can waive consultation fees in several circumstances. They link to non-directive pregnancy counselling, free post-abortion medical and counselling services, and to the Abortion Support Network for people who need assistance with funding or accommodation.

Does that seem like the actions of uncaring people who care about nothing but profit to you?

Abortion: Saying it out loud


On Blog for Choice day, Sharrow wrote about telling a group of 150 pro choice activists in Dublin about her abortion. I’d been at the meeting and wrote about it on the day but, fittingly enough, had ended up sitting on the piece all week. Funny how these things can feel so damn personal even when they’re so obviously public. I’ve since decided to post it after all. Here’s what I had to say:

The hall erupted in cheers. They went on for a long time. I think that none of us wanted to stop.

I’ve heard those words before, but never like this. In living rooms and bedrooms over cups of tea and bottles of wine. With people who know me well or- more recently- people who know enough of my public persona. That’s how we talk about these things here. With people we trust. Behind closed doors.

And then today one woman stood up as the meeting was about to break for lunch, took up the microphone and told over a hundred people that she had had an abortion, that she had had to travel and that her only regret was having to leave her country to do it.

Those four little words. “I’ve had an abortion”.

It says something about Ireland that in my relatively-brief time as a pro choice activist I have never once heard someone say it in public. Hearing them spoken out loud, here in this open meeting full of activists it felt like a revolution.

Three times the full capacity of the Aviva stadium. That’s the number of women we know to have been forced to travel overseas for abortions that are illegal in Ireland. Three times the full capacity of the Aviva stadium filled with silent women.

I know that most of those women will never stand in front of hundreds and say those words. They shouldn’t have to. It shouldn’t matter. Abortion should be as personal a matter as any other decision about our bodies and our lives. But when a country shames women, calls them immoral and murderers and heartless while knowing nothing about them, intimidates them into silence for decades- decades– on end, there is nothing more powerful than one woman’s words.

“I had an abortion. I had an abortion and I don’t regret it”.

Sharrrow isn’t everyone. She can’t speak for the hundreds of thousands of other women who’ve made similar journeys. As someone who is lucky enough to have never been forced out of my country for healthcare, I can’t speak for any of them. But I can speak as an Irish person, as someone whose body is affected by the choices of others, as a woman who lives in Ireland. I can speak as someone who’s always had a plan in my back pocket for how I’d travel if I had to. And I can speak as someone who is committed to equality, compassion, dignity and rights for every person living in this country. To me, her voice was a revolution that broke through my skin and into my heart and pride and every single word that is whispered or unspoken or kept behind closed doors.

That was whispered. That was unspoken. That was kept behind closed doors.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Blog for Choice Day 2013: Why I’m Pro-Choice


bfcd-2013Twelve women. Every day of every week of every year. Twelve women get on planes and ferries and travel to the UK from Ireland for abortions. Every day. In my lifetime that adds up to over one hundred and fifty thousand. Over one hundred and fifty thousand women- that we know of– forced to leave their country and travel, often alone, to unfamiliar cities to wait in hospitals they’ve never been to, to have abortions performed by doctors they’ll never see again, and then to take the long journey back home. A few months ago, drinking coffee before my early morning flight back from the UK I wondered how many other women were waiting in airports around the country. How many of them were taking buses in the chilly pre-dawn air to almost-deserted airports, sitting in departure lounges until their gates were announced, drinking overpriced tea at the gates? How many of them were alone?

I’m not American. Roe vs Wade didn’t give my fellow citizens the right to sovereignty over their own bodies. I’m from a place where these rights don’t exist and where an adult woman is valued only as much as a fertilised egg that implants inside her. I’m from a place where women are left to die in easily-preventable agony to serve the principle of ‘life’. A country that attempts to prevent suicidal children who have survived abuse only to become pregnant from leaving the country. Somewhere that forces women to carry their dead and dying fetuses to term against their wishes. A country that says that no risk short of a woman’s almost certain death is a valid reason to allow her to terminate a pregnancy- which is, by the way, largely to blame for the death of Dr Savita Halappanavar. No other risk to her health and well-being, no matter how severe, painful and permanent. Nothing but certain death.

I come from a country where the moment you become pregnant your life ceases to be your own and becomes the state’s. The only recourse we have- hundreds of thousands of women in a country of only four million citizens- is to leave. We’re lucky. Our country is small and close to our neighbours. There are people who will help us, from overseas hospitals who welcome Irish women with the care they need to organisations like the Abortion Support Network (please donate to them if you can! They need everything they can get) who provide both information and financial help to those who need it.

Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible to live somewhere like here and not be pro-choice. The evidence of this beautiful country of mine’s continued refusal to change, however, can’t but remind me otherwise. And then I remember that in my entire life I have only ever seen one woman in person speak out publicly about having had an abortion. I’ve been going to pro-choice demonstrations since I was old enough to vote. I just turned thirty.

I’m pro-choice because women and trans* men deserve respect and we deserve the dignity of a state that acknowledges that we are the only people with final say on our bodies and our destinies. Because pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood are momentous and change your life forever and everyone needs the right to decide for themselves if they will go through that. Because every child deserves to know that they were wanted and cherished from the moment their parents decided to have them. Because people who have abortions deserve professionalism and support, not degradation and shame.

And I’m pro-choice because banning abortion doesn’t stop people from terminating their pregnancies. It just makes the experience more difficult, traumatic and sometimes more dangerous. Banning abortion in Ireland didn’t stop people having abortions. It meant that we have to scramble to raise thousands of euro, to get time off work, find help to mind the families we might already have, and make a long and lonely trek to a different state. It meant that Irish women have abortions later than their UK counterparts, and that we are far more likely to choose surgical than medical abortions. Medical abortions, you see, while far less invasive, take longer. That is time that we don’t have. And it means that we buy our medical abortion pills online, without prescriptions or medical advice, and that when there are complications we are shamed by the medical professionals we go to for help. The only people prevented from having abortions in this state are those who either cannot afford or are legally prevented from travelling. People without financial support and asylum seekers are some of the most marginalised groups in this country, and by banning abortion we take away their right even to their own bodies.

I am pro-choice because we deserve dignity. We deserve to know that every time we walk into a hospital the doctors and nurses who work with us will be concerned only with our health and wellbeing. We deserve to choose the course of our own lives, and for that choice to be respected by our state. We deserve better than shame.

Irish Choice Network open meeting


This Saturday I joined over 200 pro-choice activists from around the country for the first (of many) planning meeting of the Irish Choice Network. The ICN is a newly-formed campaign giving Ireland’s pro-choice activists and groups a space to work together to bring about safe and legal abortion in Ireland. Over the course of the meeting, we discussed how we got to where we are today, where we want to be, and how we’re going to get there.

The meeting began with opening remarks from Ailbhe Smyth. Smyth spoke of the generations of women left waiting for legislation- her generation, their daughters and now granddaughters- and how pro-choice activists have been pushed aside and shamed time and again. But we are in a space now where things can change. We have the benefit of seasoned activists with experience of many abortion campaigns as well as a new generation of women for whom the word ‘abortion’ is not scary and who understand the normality of women who terminate their pregnancies. We have the opportunity right now, she continued, to create a national, broad based and serious campaign to achieve abortion legislation in Ireland. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon. And we start here.

Never Again

“In the supposed safest country in the world to give birth, how did Savita lose her life?”

Next to speak was Sinead Kennedy with a history of anti-abortion laws in Ireland. Did you know that the Offences Against The Persons Act banning abortion in Ireland dates from 1861? Or that it was the same act that was used to prosecute Oscar Wilde for homosexuality in 1895? This is the law that governs women’s bodies in 2012. But it gets worse. In 1983, despite the absence of any pro-choice campaign at the time, the 8th Amendment was added to the Irish Constitution. This amendment gives equal weight under Irish law to a pregnant person and their fetus/embryo. From the moment of conception, an Irish woman’s life is legally considered no more valuable than the fetus inside her.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before the consequences of this became apparent. In 1992, a 14 year old child- known only as X- was raped and became pregnant. She and her parents planned to travel to the UK for an abortion. Her parents asked if and how DNA from the fetus could be used as evidence in prosecuting her rapist. Instead of allowing this, an injunction was taken out preventing X from leaving the country to procure an abortion overseas. The prospect of being forced to bear her rapist’s child led to X becoming suicidal. With massive support from the Irish people and a Supreme Court ruling that suicide was a genuine threat to her life, the injunction was lifted. The Supreme Court ruling, however, also noted for the first time the distinction between a threat to a woman’s life and her health. There is no protection for a pregnant person’s health in Ireland if this conflicts with the supposed interests of their fetus. And without legislation, history was bound to repeat itself. In 1997 it did, with the almost-identical case of 13-year-old Miss C. Despite two referenda in 1992 and 2002 and High Court and Supreme Court judgments, governments have done nothing. In the meantime, Savita Halappanavar died.

Continuing, Kennedy stressed that legislation for X, although overdue, is not enough. We need to protect more than women’s lives. We need acknowledgment of our right to health, and of our right to control our own lives without being considered criminals for doing so.

Proactive Campaigning

“Today’s meeting is the first step in a national campaign to achieve legislation for abortion in Ireland”

The final speaker, Aoife Dermody, went through the aims of Saturday’s meeting and the pro-choice campaign. We need immediate action on the X and C judgments. We need to educate the wider public on the need for action, and to mobilise support from diverse groups in Ireland. Finally, we need to promote up-to-date, relevant, evidence based information to create policy & challenge anti-choice rhetoric. With those aims in mind, the floor was opened for discussion.

Summarising the discussion in all its detail would be impossible. However, major themes were strategy. Do we campaign initially for legislation on X, and when that is achieved work towards repeal of the 8th Amendment? Or do we look for repeal from the beginning? How do we work with groups who may agree with us partially but have different ideas on the extent of legislation? Some quotes from the discussion:

“If womens lives are equal to those of their fetuses, why are we not investigating 4000+ murders a year? If antichoicers believe that, why are they not acting?”

“Choice matters. It’s not abortion on demand or abortion on request. It’s a woman’s right to choose.”

“I’d be a little afraid to go into hospital in Ireland given current legislation. Why should Irish women be scared of going to hospitals, of all places?”

[If and when X is legislated for,] “What mechanisms will women be given to access lifesaving abortions? Will we still be at mercy of antichoice doctors’ decisions?”

“Working class women left out of campaigns. Working class women are affected by budget, child benefit, carers’ cuts. Why are our voices not being heard?”

“Massive antichoice fetus posters are everywhere making us look like murderers, while real abortion stories go unheard.”

“We need to be careful of using words like “Irish”. We need to include immigrant women who may not even have right to travel”

“Our campaign needs to include trans men: they get pregnant and need abortions too”

After this, everyone split into smaller groups where we facilitated discussions on what is to be done- and how we can do it- in five areas: lobbying and politics, partnership and outreach, funding admin and training, media, and direct action. As I was facilitating this myself, all I can tell you about this is that there were no shortage of creative ideas and energy from any group. Results from the groups is being collated, and we should have a clearer framework of where we want to go and how we’ll get there soon.

I left the meeting inspired, energised and optimistic. Like Ailbhe Smyth said: we know where we want to go. We won’t get there today and we won’t get there tomorrow, but we won’t stop until we have what we want. Free, safe, legal abortions in Ireland.

Pics from the Pro-choice Demo last night at Leinster House


A woman holds a placard saying “Why in the 21st Century are people still PISSING THEMSELVES over abortion on demand? What’s so scary about women being FULLY autonomous?”

 

Anti-abortion is not pro-life.


Anti-abortion is not pro-life.

Have we learned this yet? Let me say it again. Anti-abortion is not pro-life. I am sick of anti-abortionists hijacking the language of life. As if pro-choice people were somehow pro-death.

We know better now. Don’t we? Shouldn’t we already? For years, clinics providing abortions in the US, Canada, Australia, and probably more have been victims of attacks by murderous anti-abortionists. ‘Pro-lifers’ willing to bomb, shoot and kill to further their goals. Do you remember George Tiller?

‘Pro-lifers’ will deny any connection to people who kill to further the very viewpoints they espouse. They’re not like that, they’ll say. They value life, they’ll say. And yet this is a group that thinks nothing of standing outside clinics shouting vile accusations at vulnerable women who they know nothing about, on what may be one of the most difficult days of their lives. Have you ever heard of pro-choicers bombing anti-abortion organisations? Shooting anti-abortion campaigners in front of their family and friends? Destroying the lives of people who are anti-abortion?

I could talk here about connections between the characterisation of women and doctors as murderers and violence against them. I could talk about hatred and dehumanisation and what it leads to. But that’s not for today.

Today is about the fact that even if anti-abortion rhetoric wasn’t full of violence against women, anti-abortion policies kill women.

Anti-abortion is not pro-life.

Anti-abortion is not pro-life

I might just start identifying as pro-life. I am pro-life. I believe passionately in defending the rights of women to our own lives. Both to the choice to live as we see fit, and to the right to continue living. I care deeply about preventing unnecessary pain and suffering. I never want a woman to die a preventable, agonising death.
I believe in the rights of children- all children- to be brought up by families who cherish them and for whom they are a joy. I want to live in a world where everyone who becomes a parent wants to do so, and where every child knows that their parents freely chose to have them.
I believe in the rights of living people. Not potential people. Potential people may have their time, but those who matter most are those who exist here and now. People with thoughts and dreams, friends and loved ones. People in communities. People who can feel fear and pain and love and hope. These are the people who matter most, because right here and now these are the people who are people. There was a time when they were not. But now they are.

Anti-abortion is not pro-life.