An Cailín Rua
Most readers will be happy to know that this will be my last column on the Eighth Amendment. I too am relieved. Let’s face it, after the past few months, most of us – regardless of our position – are exhausted by it all. However, given that I’ve written on it a number of times before, it feels only right that I should close it out.
While conscious of the fact that well over a third of voters in the Mayo constituency opposed repeal of the Eighth – many for reasons of conscience – the overwhelming sensation I feel post-result is relief. Not joy, nor jubilation, just gratitude to those who listened and engaged with the topic.
It is important to acknowledge that many people who voted Yes did so despite a deep personal discomfort with the proposed heads of bill. Many who opposed the idea of unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks were still able to recognise its absolute necessity to cater for survivors of rape or those with a tragic fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis, and they voted to ensure that the people most in need of these services will be able to access them in Ireland. There is an inherent generosity in that act that should not be forgotten.
There are many remarkable aspects to this chapter in our history.
The personal journeys of learning embarked upon by so many, including TDs. The extraordinary level of citizen engagement and activism. For once, politicians were led by the people, not the other way around. The unprecedented cross-party collaboration. (New politics?)
The slow burn of the Yes campaign, building momentum so gradually that some of us wondered if it would ever spark into life and the realisation afterwards that it had been burning all along.
The emergence of brave, selfless women from the shadows of shame to share their most intimate, painful stories.
The back seat taken by the Catholic Church.
The fact that the majority of people who on doorsteps said they were undecided, or were unwilling to disclose their intentions, voted Yes. The consistency of voting patterns across demographics.
So much to dissect.
Despite being pro-choice, I have always tried to view the debate in a balanced manner. And through that lens, as a campaigner, I will now categorically refute the all-too-common claim of ‘extremism on both sides’ as deeply inaccurate.
We heard a senator dismiss mental ill-health as having ‘no evidence base’ and reduce a woman to tears on live TV. An Iona Institute member acknowledging that she would make a child carry a pregnancy conceived through rape.
On the streets, we were relentlessly provoked – called murderers, baby killers, disgraces. We heard it all. On the doorsteps, met with the vilest, most abusive of comments, we simply thanked people for their time and walked away. On my way to vote, I was spat at by an elderly man.
And we had to tolerate this abuse, to be seen as measured, because they were ‘entitled to their opinion’. Let the record be set straight now. Conscientious objection is one thing. Abusive behaviour is another.
Women were also condemned for ‘celebrating’, post result. For years, many have sought to control the behaviour and choices of women, so it was probably to be expected that despite that power being wrested away, there was still an attempt to dictate how women should behave.
May 26 was a significant day in our social and cultural history, a day women were entitled to an outpouring of 35 years’ worth of emotion, fear and relief that women’s bodies and wellbeing were finally deemed equivalent to those of men. There was no ‘dancing in the streets’ or, indeed, at the crossroads at the prospect of abortion, which all women will continue to prefer to avoid.
But none of this matters now; it is done. Wounds will heal, and out of the moments that nearly brought us to our knees, the strength of our souls will grow. This generation of so-called snowflakes proved that they can take on battles and win them.
And the Irish people showed, not for the first time, that when it boils down to it, kindness usually wins. For that, this Irish woman is very grateful.
An Cailín Rua