March for Choice goes global with protests planned for 25 cities

Meet the emigrants calling on Ireland to repeal the eighth, from Melbourne to Montreal

 

As thousands of people take to the streets in Dublin this Saturday for the Abortion Rights Campaign’s annual March for Choice, satellite protests organised by Irish emigrants will be taking place all over the world, from Melbourne to Seattle, calling for the repeal of Ireland’s eighth amendment.

By Friday evening, organisers said gatherings had been confirmed in 25 locations in 13 countries outside Ireland, including Berlin, Boston, Bristol, Brussels, Phnomh Penh, Glasgow, Kathmandu, London, Melbourne, Montreal, Moscow, New York, Paris, Portland, Porto, San Francisco, Seattle, Sydney, Toronto, Utrecht, The Hague, Vancouver and Wellington. 

"The 'global gathering' events come in all shapes and sizes, from picnics and rallies to full-on marches to Irish consulates. The goal is to make activism on this accessible, no matter where you are in the world," says Portland-based Fiona Gwozdz of the Scarlet Brigade, a pro-choice network of Irish people living abroad which is co-ordinating the "global gatherings".  

For a full list of confirmed gatherings on September 24th, see facebook.com/events/1028438840545307.

Here, some of the people involved share the reasons why the issue is so important to them.

Karen Twomey (30), Vancouver: ‘Ireland has far to go in terms of women’s rights’

I’m a television producer, and blog for the Scarlet Brigade, an online network of Irish people abroad who are embarrassed by our nation’s archaic abortion laws and the negative impact they have on women’s rights.

We decided to set up the Global Gatherings to give the Irish abroad a voice. There are now more than a dozen events organised globally for September 24th to stand in solidarity with the March for Choice in Dublin.

We want to get an international conversation going, to encourage those who live abroad and cannot or won’t get the chance to vote when there is a referendum, to discuss this issue with people at home who can take action at the ballot box.

Abortion has been legal in Canada since 1969, and prime minister Justin Trudeau is an ardent feminist. Although the marriage equality vote in Ireland was a proud day to be Irish, living in such a progressive and liberal society as Canada has made it apparent to me how far Ireland has to go in terms of women’s rights and politics in general.

I would love to move home one day, but until I can go back with full, equal rights and control over my own body, I can’t see that happening.

John Hyland (28), Brussels: ‘I felt guilty for abandoning political fights back home’ 

I work in communications for Greenpeace. When I first left Dublin in 2012 after a string of unpaid internships, I felt guilty for abandoning political fights back home, especially the one for reproductive rights. Supporting campaigns on social media, and even going home to vote in the marriage equality referendum, wasn’t a substitute for on-the-ground activism. I was delighted when I saw the Scarlet Brigade were mobilising for solidarity rallies around the world.Taking part in the protest in Brussels has made me feel more connected to political life at home, and introduced me to other Irish people active on the issue. Protesting as an emigrant adds special value to the campaign.

Irish people, and the Irish Government, place a lot of importance on our favourable international reputation. The same way we glowed with pride when we voted for marriage equality, we should be cringing in shame at the way our State restricts the rights of pregnant people.

When I tell friends in Brussels how restrictive Irish abortion laws are, they’re shocked. My French teacher thought it was so mad, she asked me to do a presentation on it for the class. That incredulity has pushed me to work harder, even from afar, for Irish women’s right to choose.

Even though we’ve left, emigrants still have some responsibility for what happens in Ireland. We are ambassadors for Ireland’s reputation overseas, and can use that to effect change domestically.

Susan Cahill (37), Montreal: ‘I was forced to endure the pregnancy until I could return to Canada’ 

After five years in Montreal I’m now a tenured professor and I love this arty city I’ve made home. I miss family and friends and rain (I never thought I’d say that), but I don’t miss the lack of control over my reproductive rights, the feeling that I matter less than a bundle of cells.I lived through this feeling intensely in 2013 when I experienced a crisis pregnancy during a month-long trip back to Ireland. I was forced to endure the pregnancy until I could return to Canada, feeling trapped and helpless, like my country didn’t care about me.

Repeal 8th Global on Twitter

Canada looked after me without judgement, with free, safe, and legal access to the healthcare I needed. The gulf between my bodily autonomy in these two places I now call home prompted me to write about my experience and be part of the conversation that Róisín Ingle and Tara Flynn started. Their abortion stories gave me permission to tell mine.

On January 22nd I stood on the Abbey stage and told my story about my abortion, thinking of the ghosts of Yeats and Gregory and Synge and wondering what they would think of me. On 21st February, a longer version of my story was published in the Irish Times. It was terrifying but the support I received was overwhelming. It feels like Ireland is ready for change.

I’m organising a gathering in the city that showed me what it was like to live in a country that trusted women to make the best decision for themselves.

I want to bring together Irish people living in Montreal with Canadians who support Irish women’s right to choose, and stand in solidarity with the amazing work taking place in Ireland to repeal the eighth amendment. I want to help show that the Irish diaspora is invested in overturning this law.

Michelle Coleman (31), Seattle: ‘Emigrants young and old are keeping a close eye on this movement’ 

I work as a research scientist. I was a regular attendee at the March for Choice when I lived in Ireland, so it seemed logical to organise an event here in Seattle, to show solidarity. The support for our gathering in Washington State has been overwhelming, despite the fact that lots of our supporters no longer have an Irish vote.In such a tech-heavy city, non-Irish friends working for companies like Amazon are curious about what the eighth amendment means for them if they were to go on secondment to Ireland.

The diaspora has always engaged with politics back home, most recently in the Home to Vote and Be My Yes campaigns during the marriage equality referendum. Demand for a vote on the eighth amendment is another example of how emigrants, young and old, are keeping a close eye on this movement.

In modern Ireland, women cannot access pills to induce medical abortions, despite them being deemed essential medication by the World Health Organisation. Women who are pregnant through rape face longer prison sentences for importing this medicine than their rapists. Some women may not have access to life-saving cancer treatment when pregnant, and others are forced to either go full-term when carrying a foetus with a fatal anomaly, or else abandon the familiar support of their delivery team and terminate in another jurisdiction.

There seems to be an increase in “good-news” articles about the Irish economy, urging emigrants to return. Having to giving up my bodily autonomy and right to informed medical consent were I to move back frightens me. I fail to see why any woman would choose to return to a country where she is a second-class citizen.

Aoife Cooke (33), Melbourne: ‘I’m relieved to have access to Australian maternity services’ 

This is my second time living in Australia; I’ve been here nearly three years, working in community development. My partner and I hope to have children soon, and it saddens me that I feel relief knowing I’ll have access to Australian maternity services. It’s reassuring that if something goes wrong during my pregnancy, doctors will be free to use their best medical judgement in combination with my consent, and no one will fear the constitution.

I was back in Ireland over 2014 and 2015, and I became involved with the Abortion Rights Campaign. There is so much energy and grit in the commitment of the volunteers, that it’s hard not to be optimistic. It was a whirlwind of meetings, events, talks and protests. For many of us, this was all done on top of full-time jobs. My time with the campaign had me addressing a crowd of 4,000 on the streets of Dublin, Spanish women’s groups fighting threats to abortion access there, and the European Parliament in Brussels.

It was hard to leave Ireland at the end of last year, knowing I might not be around to bring in the change I know is coming. So continuing to support the movement from Australia was a no-brainer. Although most of my friends and networks are Australians who take abortion access for granted, it wasn’t hard to find Irish people to work with who are passionate about the Repeal movement.

I used to believe abortion was morally wrong when I was young, like many who went to Catholic schools. But what I really wanted was for no one to experience an unplanned pregnancy, and for every child to be wanted. But for better or for worse, life is messier, more complex and more unpredictable than that. I now strongly believe that enabling families and individuals to make decisions over their own bodies, their health and the direction of their own lives is central to a caring, compassionate world.

Deirdre Brennan (26), Bristol: ‘It is important to raise awareness in England’ 

I work with a domestic violence charity. My three sisters and I have set up home in the UK, split across London, Essex and Bristol. All four of us are pro-choice, and know the peace of mind that comes with living in a country which grants women bodily autonomy.Living abroad has meant missing out on what feels like a crucial time in Irish history for women. Momentum to #Repealtheeighth has grown enormously and I really believe change is coming. For years I wanted to be at home to walk in the March for Choice. When I saw there was a Global Repeal movement, my sister Amy and I jumped at the chance to organise a protest here.

It is important to raise awareness in England about the scale in numbers of women travelling here for an abortion. When I explain our archaic law to people here they are shocked, and saddened too by the fact that their fellow citizens in Northern Ireland don’t have full access to NHS healthcare.

Astrid Ryan (24), Melbourne: ‘Just because I have emigrated, doesn’t mean I have turned my back’

I have been travelling and continuously leaving Ireland since I was an independent adult. The insidious culture of female sin, shame and guilt spread by the Catholic Church has served to alienate me from our clearly non-secular society. The play An Triail in school, the Magdalene Laundries, the gruesome, outdated pro-life abortion videos in religion class, the slut-shaming questions in Boots when buying my first morning-after pill, all consistently taught me that as a woman in Ireland, I was not respected by my country. Even while travelling I have become continuously more frustrated and ashamed of Ireland when seeing international friends react in shock and disbelief at hearing about our primitive abortion laws.

Helping organise this solidarity event in Melbourne means so much to me. I want to show everyone at home that just because I have emigrated, doesn’t mean I have turned my back on my country, its people, and its problems. I want to be part of the solution, to ensure that I can go home to a country where I have control over my body.

The appalling treatment of women in need of abortions in Ireland is one of the manifold reasons why I and countless other young people are emigrating and staying away. I’m 24, I certainly haven’t left Ireland for good. Most emigrants want to return to raise their families in Ireland. But first we need our Government to provide us with the respect, human rights, and basic healthcare services we deserve.

Fiona Gwozdz (31), Portland, Oregon: ‘I want to help make Ireland a better place’

As an Irish immigrant in America, I long for home, and I want to help make Ireland a better place for the next generation, even if I don’t live there right now. Supporting the Repeal the eighth movement via the Global Gathering is one way I can contribute to Ireland’s progress. It’s about making activism accessible (thank you social media!) and putting pressure on the Irish Government from around the world to stop undermining equality by putting pregnant people’s lives in jeopardy with this restrictive law.

Born in Dublin, I first moved to the states with my family as a baby in the late 1980s. After being raised in the Pacific Northwest and graduating from university, I went back to Dublin where I stayed for seven years. I moved back to the states again in 2013. I’m now based in Portland, Oregon where I work in communications for public and nonprofit agencies, moonlighting as an equality activist and as the Scarlet Brigade’s US counterpart.

Here in the States we have our own struggles with reproductive rights, despite supportive legislation, which makes me feel like repealing the eighth is only the beginning for improving reproductive rights in Ireland.

The idea of the Global Gathering is not just about the individual events that are taking place on the 24th in solidarity with Dublin’s March for Choice, but also about the conversations that these events will help instigate. It is about unifying all women and men who want to have a voice in this debate, regardless of our current geography.

Orlagh Hurley (28), Melbourne: ‘I didn’t want to just disengage from Ireland’

I couldn’t wait to escape Dublin in the summer of 2012 after finishing a gruelling degree in Speech and Language Therapy at Trinity that I’m yet to use. I was finding the recession talk and lack of social change stifling. So I headed off on my own to Asia, before moving to London with friends.

I’ve been overseas for the majority of time since. I was based in Dublin for a little while again around the time of the marriage equality referendum and I could see change was afoot. It was truly invigorating. So in 2015 when I decided to leave again, this time for Australia with a more mature head on my shoulders, I knew I didn’t want to just disengage from Ireland as I had done when I left for London.

Access to abortion is a class issue. It’s a feminist issue. It’s a human rights issue. I couldn’t find a repeal the eighth movement in Australia so I decided to start something myself, albeit very small. I created the ‘Irish Pro Choice in Oz’ Facebook page to help the Irish here keep informed on the campaign back home.

I know there are women at home, and Irish overseas, who have been through abortions who will not be able to bring themselves to get involved for whatever reason. I wanted to campaign for choice so that those women who are not ready to speak out can still have a voice. In future, when they are ready, they will be listened to and they won’t be judged, stigmatised, or criminalised. Let’s create a social culture young people want to involve in, and don’t want to flee from, like I and many others did.

Aoife Kelly (24), New York: ‘After YesEquality a lot of young people got fired up to create change’

I’ve only been in New York for a month. I left right after my 24th birthday. I’m here on a J-1 Grad Visa; I graduated from Maynooth University in 2015 and worked in Dublin for a year, but I wanted to travel. My boyfriend then got accepted to a PhD programme in New York, so I thought it was a sign, and here I am.

I was disappointed to be missing the March for Choice in Dublin so I decided to try to organise a solidarity gathering here in the city. I think it’s important to continue supporting the Repeal campaign even though I’m not in country. Ireland is my home and it’s awful to think of how many women each day are forced to put themselves at risk and leave the country just to get the basic healthcare they need. After the YesEquality campaign was so successful last year I think a lot of young people, myself included, got inspired and fired up to create some real change in Ireland. The eighth amendment is a scourge on Irish society and the sooner people of childbearing age get a say on its existence, the better.

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