Photo: Stephanie Fitzgerald
The class aspect of abortion goes largely unreported, overshadowed by the Eighth Amendment’s inflicted tragedies and injustices over the last thirty-three years. The catalogue of wrongs thickens daily as women are forced to travel by the dozen. But little is known about the ones who get left behind. Free, safe and legal abortion has never been available on Irish soil and no one under the age of 50 has ever had a right to choose the outcome of a pregnancy. No choice for those whose circumstances are prohibited by time, money, and freedom of movement.
A war for bodily autonomy has waged over that last third of a century, one that in 2016 is coming to a head. 25-30,000 people poured through the streets of Dublin on 24th of September for the annual March For Choice, replete with banners and chants, some humorous, some furious. This year, there was a new contingent. Appearing on the bluff at the last minute like a Monty Python battle sketch, the middle class had arrived.
‘REPEAL’ the slogan demands in stark white text. Fashion has always co-opted its causes from politics, most effectively with simple, clear statements. The AIDS ribbon changed global perception without diminishing the major humanitarian effort behind the movement. The Repeal Project’s sweatshirts have achieved a similar result in uniting a disparate group that support a common cause, specifically the Pro-Choice majority of the population which currently stands at 67% in favour of repeal. Pride of place in public means a forthright rejection of the shame and stigma attached to abortion in Iteland.
Along with bright murals and encouraging gestures from businesses, slick videos and solidarity shots, the middle-class trend for the expensive sweatshirts has made it all about us, ordinary people who need access to abortion. Not them, the tragic ones, the stigmatised members of the community forced to suffer, demeaned in lurid stories and demoted to statistics. Perhaps it’s a welcome change to see abortion set out in black and white as a basic human right, out of love and respect for a woman’s right to choose, considering the many agonies over thirty-three years that left the Church-run state unmoved.
Perhaps the element of a rescue mission in the Repeal fashion is distasteful to others who witnessed Pro-Choice activists swimming against the tide for decades, hindered in their struggle by Anti-Choice organisations that had money and numbers at ready disposal. Abortion was commodified from the pulpit long before it ever reached a webstore, congregations all across the world being urged to fight the scourge, donate and help Ireland keep its holy status. What little know or care that their money went to billboard campaigns and pickets outside rape crisis centres? The bearer of each sweatshirt knows a percentage of the proceeds go to the Abortion Rights Campaign. There were thousands of black jumpers in attendance at the March For Choice, meaning a direct benefit from those middle-class coffers to an organisation that knows better than anyone else how many get left behind and what can be done to help.
Access to abortion is a class issue. Knowing what we do now of the historical failures of church and state to act in the public interest, it is time to prise loose the paternalistic iron fist restricting reproductive rights. The Irish government’s duty is to its pre-existing populace, to fix present problems rather than staking claims on prospective futures. How can it be trusted to do so when ministers that have protected the Eighth Amendment since its insertion still attend the Dail today?
The Monday after the march, during Leader’s Questions in the Dail, Ruth Coppinger called on Enda Kenny to clarify his position on the Eighth Amendment. In reference to the Repeal shirts worn by Coppinger and five other AAA-PBP TDs in attendance, Kenny smarmed that it wasn’t “a black and white issue”. Our leader, so respectful on the subject of women’s bodies. The truth is, it’s a yes or no question, answerable only by referendum.