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.