Saoirse Ronan, who stars as Mary Stuart in Mary, Queen of Scots, has opened up about all of the ways in which Ireland has changed… for the better.
On Saturday 26 May 2018, it was confirmed that Ireland had voted overwhelmingly in favour of repealing the eighth amendment, the legal provision that made abortion illegal in almost all circumstances.
The landslide result was the culmination of years of campaigning by grassroots feminist organisations, and has been widely interpreted as proof of Ireland’s increasingly liberal social and political values. With the exception of one county (Donegal) and one demographic (the over-65s), every region and group voted in favour of giving women control over their bodies and lives – proving that this was not a vote swung by urban millennials, but by a near-universal belief in the importance of choice.
Before the referendum, though, there was work to be done. And Mary, Queen of Scots actress Saoirse Ronan, like so many other Irish women, threw her weight behind the campaign. Indeed, she even appeared in a video which outlined the difficulties faced by young pregnant women in Ireland, highlighting the dangers faced by those who are carrying foetuses with fatal abnormalities and young women who are pregnant as a result of sexual abuse or rape.
Stating that these women do not have “full rights over her own body”, the video went on to detail the risk of a 14-year prison sentence these women take when unsafely using illegal abortion pills without medical support.
Now, in a new interview with the Irish Times, Ronan has admitted that the decision to throw her support behind the campaign in such a public manner was not exactly an easy one.
“When I was younger, and there were petitions to repeal the Eighth, I remember thinking that even though it was the right thing, maybe I shouldn’t say anything,” said Ronan.
“This was the way it had always been – and that’s being honest about it. But then you get older, and you come into your own womanhood and you realise how complicated and amazing being a woman is, and how protective you feel of your own body. The idea that anyone could have a say over that is bizarre.”
Ronan added: “I’ve had friends who had to go through it – travel to Liverpool for an abortion, spend thousands of euros, put yourself in the Holiday Inn…”
Addressing her newfound pride in her country, she added: “To know [Ireland] was seen as this backward place, when it never felt like that to us… it was so disappointing. But now we match up internationally to how we see ourselves, and that feels amazing.”
Ronan, whose latest role as Mary Stuart sees her play a staunch Catholic, went on to note that the “church is still a massive presence. But it is changing. It doesn’t have the same grasp it used to. I can’t imagine what it was like for gay people. During the marriage referendum , I spoke to people who said they’d spent 40 years in the closet at home, and yet they could be out everywhere else.”
She added: “It has been incredible. We’ve done the country proud.”