Thousands of people have taken part in a Dublin rally calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution in one of the biggest pro-choice demonstrations seen in Ireland.
The march set off from Garden of Rembrance on Parnell Square shortly after 2pm, travelling down O’Connell Street.
The mainly young crowd shouted chants of “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate”, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries”, and “Pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die” before reaching Merrion Square where speeches were made.
Incessant heavy rain and the ongoing Dublin Bus strike failed to deter large crowd. ,
Organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign, the March for Choice event was the fifth annual protest by the group and the biggest.
Several observers put the attendance at about 20,000, although some participants calculated a higher figure.
Pro-choice campaigners among the Irish diaspora are holding parallel demonstrations in a number of cities including London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Melbourne.
Linda Kavanagh of the Abortion Rights Campaign said: “In 1916 people dreamed of a better Ireland, one of self-determination and the right to choose their own destiny. A hundred years later, we’re still fighting for that right; there can be no freedom without bodily autonomy.
“We cannot wait for another woman to die, for another woman to be kept alive artificially, for another woman to be force-fed and cut open against her will.
“Enough blood has been spilled, enough women have died. No more shame, no more silence, no more stigma. This is our Rising.”
Singer Mary Coughlan told the crowd: “I have been involved in many campaigns, and this is surely the most joyous of all to see so many of you here today.
“I’m a mother of five children, three daughters and two sons. I’m a grandmother of three children and another one on the way.
“I have made the journey from Galway to London for an abortion, I have got on the train and then I did the boat, and then I did the train to Heuston. When I got on the train to Ealing I was surprised to see so many of the women that had been on the same boat in the clinic that morning.
“I remember one girl in particular, she was meant to be studying overnight in a friend’s house for her Leaving Certificate, and she made the journey alone, as I did, as have thousands and thousands and thousands… of women over the years.
“A woman’s right to choose to what happens to her body is her choice, it’s not anybody in any Government’s, or any man anywhere that is my firm belief, it’s my right to choose what happens to my body.”
Attending an event at Trinity College Dublin, no more than 50 metres from where the march crossed Pearse Street, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was asked had he any message for the protesters.
He declined to comment.
Last week, Mr Kenny indicated that the Citizens’ Assembly will meet for the first time on Saturday, October 15th.
The assembly was established by the Government to consider a number of issues, but will first focus on the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn.
It will sit under the chairmanship of Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, a sitting Supreme Court justice and its 100th member.
Mr Kenny said last week he hoped the convention will allow for a “a rational discussion on the amendment” followed by an examination of other issues, such as climate change and Ireland’s ageing population.
Earlier on Saturday, there was a small gathering of anti-abortion campaigners on Dublin’s Grafton Street early on Saturday afternoon where it was claimed that “as many as 100,000 lives were saved by the Eighth Amendment”.
For Castleknock woman Amy De Bhrun, the issues at hand carried a personal dimension as she spoke of her own family’s experiences with fatal foetal abnormality.
“I’ve had experiences in my family with fatal foetal abnormalities, and I just think that people should just have the choice.
“After seeing how Ireland came together last year for marriage equality I think anything’s possible now. I have hope,” she said.
The march and rally came to a close at 4.30pm, and passed off peacefully with no disturbances.
The Pro Life Campaign (PLC) also took the opportunity to criticise the March for Choice taking place in the city, describing it as “a betrayal of both of women and their unborn babies.”
To arrive at its figure of 100,000, PLC compared abortion levels in England and Wales as well as Spain, Portugal and Belgium over a 20 year period from 1994 to the number abortions Irish women had overseas over the same timeframe.
The campaign said it was “impossible to arrive at a precise figure on the number of lives saved by the Amendment” as there are so many variables involved and suggested it had adopted a “conservative approach” in its analysis.
UCD student Katie Ascough was one of a dozen or so people who gathered under helium balloons to highlight the figure
“In the UK one in five pregnancies ends in termination and here that number is more like one in 20. The Eighth Amendment has given people time to think things through,” she said.
She said that fatal foetal abnormalities were “a hard case” but suggested that they had been pushed to the fore by abortion rights campaigners.
She called for more discussion about what would come in its wake if the amendment is repealed and she claimed the pro-life movement was not being fairly represented in the debate on the topic.
“I think there is an imbalance. I am in UCD and the students union there is very much in your face pro-choice. That is very unfair to the students who are pro-life.
“The students union in Trinity has said its number one priority is to have the eighth amendment repealed. That is not fair to the students who are pro-life or to those who are undecided on the issue.”