Prohibiting Personhood; Facing the Farces of Anti-Choice Ireland

 

Of the many misconceptions and stereotypes circulating about the Irish, the most common dyad is as follows; 1) we like to drink 2) we’re all green forest dwellers who chase rainbows. While some of us do have a certain affinity towards rainbows (wink wink) let us put aside the essentialist and overwrought trope of alcoholic leprechaunism. Here is one misconception we should be concerned with. Ireland is often championed as a hero of human rights in the international realm of roundtables, highbrow diplomacy and general ‘UN-dom.’ That is to say it has a great deal of soft power or kindness currency among the ‘big boys’. For evidence, see economist Simon Anholt’s measure of how each country contributes to the ‘common good of humanity,’ known as the ‘Good Country Index’ of which Ireland was crowned Queen for its various outward policies in aid/trade etc. Watch the Ted Talk,[1] brought to my attention by a colleague, here. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for self-love/affirmation and credit where credit is due, and to be fair there is some credit due. But there is far more condemnation. You see while Ireland has no problem tooting its credentials as a donor dedicated to decreasing human rights abuses, it also has no problem perpetuating those on its own doorstep.[2] Apathy, austerity and aversion to mental health awareness; the list is long. Today I attest for just one arena of abuse; abortion rights.

‘An appropriate woman,’ the answer recently given by Taoiseach (prime minister for those folks unfamiliar with Gaelic political lingo) Enda Kenny, to the question of who would chair the committee to examine a likely forthcoming yet long overdue referendum to repeal of Ireland’s Eight Amendment. For those unaware ‘the eighth’, as it’s colloquially known, places equal reverence on the right to life of the woman with that of ‘pre-born,’ to borrow an anti-choice phrase. As it stands, in the Republic abortion is prohibited in all circumstances save in ‘substantial’ risk to the life of the woman and or certification of suicidality by no less than six medical professionals. Similar criminalisation persists in North Ireland under a law dating from 1861. Whether South or North of the border, those who dare defy the dictate face ‘punishment’ in the form of a prison sentence up to fourteen years or life respectively. One Northern Irish woman was last week sentenced for ingesting so called ‘noxious’ abortifacients[3] following being outed by her own flatmates for in their words failing to ‘show remorse.’[4] Another woman is set to appear before court next week for procuring pills for her sixteen year old daughter. To put it lightly the laws on the Island of Ireland are the living reality of Donald Trump’s verbal diarrhoea. Reflect on that.

As so often characteristic when discussing reproductive rights, no matter whether politician, pundit or member of the general public, we all make cissexist and exclusionary assumptions about who can and cannot get pregnant. This erases the experiences of Trans*, intersex and gender non-conforming persons who may also need access to reproductive health care and thus face double discrimination. It is not my intention to propagate such harmful and exclusionary currents. However as those of us who frequent social justice circles are overtly aware (and those of us who may be finding their feet can stand to learn); good intentions are no excuse from the calamities they can cause.[5] The views expressed within these musings stem purely from my position as a white, middle-class and cis-gender woman and thus are in no way reflective of ‘women’s experience’ as a monolith (hint; there’s no such thing). If you’d like to learn more about reproductive justice as a trans* issues check out the following contributions on Everyday Feminism; http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/11/trans-women-reproductive-justice/ , http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/08/gender-inclusive-discussing-abortion/. I shall follow suit with the latter link’s author and henceforth swap the word ‘woman’ for the more inclusive acronym ‘FARS’ or ‘Female Assigned Reproductive System,’ except if making direct reference to Enda’s oh so decorous commentary.

Suffice it to say that Enda’s ‘appropriate woman’ became the subject of widespread distaste. The debacle has since been immortalised by the retort of Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland (hereafter ARC) who took to the web and the streets via hashtag to question whether noted female figures throughout Irish history may or may not ‘pass’ by Enda’s standards of propriety (producing endless enjoyment at least on my end). See here the dames deemed worthy throughout Dublin’s fair city donning their sashes of acceptability; https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.823686081110501.1073741858.191023254376790&type=3.

Such campaign correlated with last weekend’s Centenary celebrations of Ireland’s 1916 Republican Rising. Many of the #appropriatewomen themselves played integral roles in the anti-British insurgency later to have their herstory erased in its remembrance.[6] Much effort has been made to restore their presence in anticipation of the anniversary of events that began to jolt the crown from its colonial clutches. [7] Broaching on a century of freedom later; two things are certain. First, Irish FARS,’ like our foremothers before us, still refuse to be cowed into docility.[8] This time vis-a-vis the religious righteousness that binds our bodily autonomy (See the ‘Abortion Pill Bus,’ an act of civil disobedience/general badassery)[9]. Second, Irish FARS’, like our foremothers before us, must still sacrifice for ‘statehood.’ Yet this time it is not for our independence but for the continued lack thereof.[10] For you see, in the wake of our newfound freedom, FARS were expected to reproduce the Irish state by reproducing for it. The battle veered from the Union to the uterus as the female body became the locus on which to inscribe the anti-protestant ideology of the state building process. That battle is still blazing.

Such gratuitous puppeteering of our personhood, as means to an end of national identity/power consolidation is sadly reflective of broader global trends wherein FARS’ rights are rendered political pawns, and bodies; bargaining chips. If current government formation negotiations are any indication, the establishment is still willing to broker the fate of the female body for political favour, a phenomenon sadly being replicated at present in places such as Poland,[11] the Philippines, the U.S. and Brazil.

The appropriate Irish imperative for the appropriate Irish woman? Eat, sleep, reproduce, repeat; aka the motherhood mandate. Indeed the Irish constitution of 1937 uses the word’s ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ interchangeably. As FARS’ in Ireland, we reside with the resounding knowledge that our own country values our worth as inextricable from our wombs. When ‘women become wombs,’ to borrow the phrase coined by notorious second waver Janice Raymond [12]they are stripped of their personhood. It is organisations such as ARC, Woman on Web/Waves [13]Alliance for Choice and Abortion Support Network[14] who enable us to reclaim the very personhood so callously stripped away by our own nation-state. Their efforts have been and will continue to be incremental toward thawing the chilling climate that for too long had silenced the issue of abortion like it silenced the voices of the ten FARS’ per day (by conservative estimates) who cross our waters to seek one elsewhere.[15] While they are among those whose means afford them the choice to travel; others are not so lucky. As so solemnly reminded by the case of Ms Y, an asylum seeker and rape survivor who following being denied an abortion underwent an enforced caesarean,[16] the brunt of the burden falls invariably on the backs of society’s most marginalised and vulnerable.

Recently, scores of FARS’ have been inspired to share their experiences of what it means to have (or rather not have) an abortion in Ireland. Their stories[17] signal a burgeoning boom toward busting the stale stigma that still surrounds the politics of Irish motherhood. We must continue this move toward normalisation, demystification and (yes, GASP) celebration[18] of the positive impact an abortion can have on the life of someone who for whatever myriad of reasons (of which I iterate an unfriendly reminder are none of yours or anyone else’s business) may wish to no longer be pregnant. We must trust FARS’ to make their own mandates.  

If Ireland seeks to become the true proctor of human rights it is so praised to be, personhood must take precedence over any conception (pun not intended) of the so called ‘pre-born.’ It must be an Ireland in which full reproductive justice is realised. It must be an Ireland in which one can say, not only sans shame, stigma or apology but with conviction and celebration ‘I choose to interrupt a pregnancy, because that pregnancy interrupted me.’ It must be an Ireland in which there is no such thing as ‘an appropriate woman.’ Make me a person and I’ll mark you my praise.

 

If you would like to discuss with me any issues raised in the piece (or just hear me rant further) please do not hesitate to get in touch via facebook or email

 

To learn more check out these Organisations/ Campaigns;

Abortion Support Network;   https://www.abortionsupport.org.uk/

Need Abortion Ireland; https://needabortionireland.org/

Women Help; https://womenhelp.org/

The Pro Choice Education Project; http://www.protectchoice.org/index.php

The X-ile Project; http://www.x-ileproject.com/

Shout Your Abortion; http://shoutyourabortion.com/

Polish Pro-Choice Group ‘Girls for Girls’; https://www.facebook.com/dziewuchydziewuchom/

Pro-Choice performance group ‘Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A- Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Speaking-of-Imelda/571659212932533.

 

 

footnotes

[1]https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_anholt_which_country_does_the_most_good_for_the_world?language=en

[2] Not to mention showing flippant disregard for those of its past; Ireland has continually ignored criticism from the UN Committee Against Torture for its failure to adequately compensate women forced into slave labour at its Madeleine Laundries as well as survivors of enforced symphysiotomy during the 1960’s and 70’s.  

[3] Both pills in question Misoprostol and Mifepristone are registered on the World Health Organisations list of Essential Medicine.

[4] Such vicious policing of post-abortion ‘propriety,’ serves only to further vilify both the procedure and those who seek/undergo it. The message is this; repent or face reproach, atone or be arraigned.

[5] http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/07/intentions-dont-really-matter/ I both expect and demand to be held fully accountable for the (unintentional yet albeit nonetheless inevitable) potentially problematic phraseology I may invoke within these paragraphs.

[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/17/opinion/the-sisterhood-of-the-easter-rising.html?_r=0

[7] This sex-shop even pledged part of the proceeds of its commemorative ‘tri-colour dildo’ towards ARC’s ‘free, safe, legal campaign’ to spark conversation on repealing the eighth; http://www.dailyedge.ie/tricolour-dildo-ireland-2683032-Mar2016/?utm_source=twitter_self

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/25/100-years-after-easter-rising-irish-women-still-fighting-gender-equality

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/23/pro-choice-activists-women-access-abortion-tour-of-ireland

[10] See this powerful blog post on the ‘Involuntary Patriotism;’ of four women who sacrificed for Ireland; http://bogmanscannon.com/2016/03/26/four-women-who-died-for-ireland-on-the-concept-of-involuntary-patriotism-by-william-wall/

[11] http://mashable.com/2016/04/12/abortion-protest-northern-ireland-poland/#o8rKGBt5f5qJ

[12] Warning; Raymond’s work is major TERF territory, that is Trans-Exclusionary, Radical Feminism; proceed at your own peril.

[13] Champions of the Pill Bus and previous ship campaign as seen within the aptly named documentary ‘Vessel.’

[14] To name a few; http://the-orbit.net/teacosy/2016/04/14/abortion-heroes-ireland-1/

[15] This short film depicts the intersecting journeys of two women crossing the channel; http://feministire.com/2016/03/14/taking-the-boat-a-short-film-by-lisa-keogh/

[16] She is now suing the state; http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/ms-y-suing-the-state-after-being-refused-abortion-when-she-arrived-here-as-asylum-seeker-pregnant-from-alleged-rape-34552975.html

[17] Read here but one; http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/susan-cahill-my-abortion-was-not-remotely-traumatic-i-have-no-regrets-1.2542740

[18] ‘Why wouldn’t I be happy that I was not forced to become a mother;’ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/22/i-set-up-shoutyourabortion-because-i-am-not-sorry-and-i-will-not-whisper ,

See more on Pro-abortion; http://www.salon.com/2015/04/24/i_am_pro_abortion_not_just_pro_choice_10_reasons_why_we_must_support_the_procedure_and_the_choice/

 

 

 

Disclaimer: Statements expressed on this website are not official statements of EIUC or EMA. They are written under the responsibilities of the individual author.

About Elizabeth Mc Guiness 1 Article
Interested in menstrual activism, reproductive justice and ending the carno-normativity. Holds a bachelor's in Politics & INRL with a minor in Social Justice.

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