Thousands of Irish women march against draconian abortion laws

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Moya Crockett
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Thousands of people took to the streets in Ireland on International Women’s Day to protest the country’s abortion ban.

Under the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, introduced in 1983, the life of an embryo or foetus is granted the same protections as the life of the mother. This effectively means that abortion is illegal, even in cases of rape, incest or where the mother’s health is endangered. Terminations are only permitted when the mother is at risk of dying as a direct result of her pregnancy.

Between 10,000 and 12,000 people marched against the oppressive legislation in Dublin on Wednesday night. The protestors, who wore black in an echo of last year’s famous Black Monday abortion protests in Poland, chanted mantras including “Not the church, not the State, women must decide their fate” and “They say airfare, we say healthcare” – a reference to the many women forced to fly out of Ireland for abortions.

At one point, CNN reports that a spontaneous dance party – to the strains of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and the Spice Girls’ Wannabe – broke out on Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge.

One of the protestors, 23-year-old student and union leader Jess Morris, told CNN that Ireland’s stance on abortion was down to the influence of the Catholic Church, which is formally opposed to the procedure.

“Repealing the 8th hasn’t happened because Ireland is controlled by the church,” she said. “Religion has no place in the constitution. It’s so abysmal that this country is allowing this to go on. Women are dying.”

Smaller demonstrations also took place in counties including Cork, Mayo, Kilkenny, Meath, Wexford, Waterford and Limerick, the Irish Times reports.

Many Irish women and men opposed to the Eighth Amendment have been campaigning for a referendum to be held on the law. In the build-up to International Women’s Day, the Strike4Repeal campaign had urged women and men in Ireland to take Wednesday off work to raise awareness of the need for a referendum.

Sharon Nolan, who lives in Galway and works for a tech company, told the Irish Times that her boss had allowed her to take the day off to attend the protest.

“The impact that it has, the lack of consent that you have for any medical procedure you have when you’re pregnant, is atrocious,” she said. “It’s harming people’s lives and I will do anything to fight against it.”

At least nine Irish women travel to England and Wales every day for abortions in 2015, according to Department of Health statistics. In recent years, the #Repealthe8th campaign has gained momentum, with thousands of women marching against the Eighth Amendment in countries around the world last September.

In June 2016, the UN’s human rights committee called on the Irish government to reform its abortion laws, and the Citizen’s Assembly will recommend a course of action for the government this April. However, their suggestions will not be legally binding.

The Irish march and strike was just one of many that took place around the world on International Women’s Day. An international protest, dubbed ‘A Day Without a Woman’, saw rallies and protests in more than 50 countries and over 400 cities worldwide, with many women temporarily refusing to work or shop in male-owned businesses.

In New York City, 13 leaders of the 21 January Women’s March were arrested outside Trump Tower. Before she was arrested, organiser Linda Sarsour reportedly addressed criticisms that the international protest was only open to “privileged” women with the luxury of being able to take time off work.

“We honour the women who striked [sic] in the Montgomery bus boycott,” said Sarsour, who also cited striking “farmworkers” as inspiration. “Are those privileged women?

“The movements that we are all a part of have always been led by those who have the most to lose,” she said. “Social justice movements are not convenient.”

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