A few days ago on Twitter I noticed a phrase that was starting to crop up. It was the hashtag “Inspiring Women”. People were tweeting the names and histories of women who inspired them. Some of the women were overtly feminist, while others were leaders or pioneers in their particular field. I started to wonder who I could pinpoint as my own feminist inspiration. There was no clear key moment when I began to identify as feminist. I thought maybe it stemmed from my interest in the music of Destiny's Child in my younger years. I enjoyed their lyrics espousing female financial and emotional empowerment. Looking back on it now it seems hard to argue the relevance of these things to a 12 year old living in a pink and white bedroom lovingly furnished by their parents. But I felt that I could identify with the songs anyway, and their image of female friendship and fun.
On 19th May 2012, the Irish Feminist Network held its first ever conference. The rationale behind the conference consisted of the need to document the current resurgence in feminist activism in Ireland, while also situating this resurgence within the wider context of the history and potential future of Irish feminist movements. The conference was themed “Feminist Activism in Ireland: Past, Present and Future.” In order to do this broad topic justice, we structured the conference in terms of successive feminist ‘waves’ in Ireland, and were fortunate to have an amazing line-up of speakers. There were panels on the first, second and third waves of feminist activism, and keynote addresses by prominent politician, Mary Lou McDonald, and women’s migrant rights activist, Salome Mbugua from AkiDwA.
I am sure you've seen the Anti-Abortion billboards by Youth Defence. These billboards have caused broad range of discussion from advertising standards to free speech to misinformation and the ever divisive issue of abortion itself. And it's not the first campaign of its kind.
In March this year, we carried out a social media campaign analysis of the Youth Defence page, it had 30,178 likes, three months later it has 57,661 fans. (source)
This demonstrates to us that Youth Defence have the financial backing, social media know-how and are actively and aggressively campaigning for their Pro-Life/Anti-Choice beliefs.
The problem is that the pro-choice side is comparatively passive. And in Ireland it is those who shout the loudest who get heard. It's time to start being heard.
Below, are some examples of Youth Defence's behaviour and how you can help rally against it both on and offline.
As someone whose views on choice have changed dramatically in the past couple of years, I feel it is worthwhile sharing that process. I come from a Catholic background and grew up never thinking carefully about abortion but always with the vague notion that it was morally wrong. Since discovering feminism, I have had occasion to closely examine my beliefs. I came to understand that my previous anti-abortion stance had been dictated to me by the Church. This is the kind of religious brain-washing to which most of the Irish population has been subjected as a result of our non-secular education system. Now is the time to begin thinking for ourselves.
Usually, when feminists talk about Twilight it’s not in a good way. But is there a favourable comparison between these films and modern Ireland?
***SPOILER ALERT*** In the latest instalment of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn: Part 1, Bella and Edward marry and go on honeymoon. Despite Jacob’s confidence that it won’t be a “real honeymoon”, they do have sex and Bella becomes pregnant. Unfortunately, the foetus is half human/half vampire, an unprecedented conception that nobody quite knows what to make of. Enter the superstitious Brazilian woman who feels Bella’s stomach and predicts ‘morte’, death. The foetus constitutes ‘a risk to the life of the pregnant woman’, making Bella a woman to whom the X case legislation (for which we are currently campaigning in Ireland) would apply.
Never mind, ‘Carlisle will get that thing out’, says Edward. He takes charge, accelerating their journey back to his doctor father. Meanwhile, Bella is soliciting support for the decision she has already made independently. Their family are shocked and appalled by her refusal to have an abortion. Rosalie, her new sister-in-law, is the only one to stand by Bella. Having long craved a child, we assume she is sympathetic to Bella’s feelings. Or is she hoping Bella will die, leaving her the baby? There’s no love lost between them after all.
As for the abortion debate, there isn’t much of it. Of course, the foetus isn’t necessarily human, but nevertheless, in the worst case scenario it would be 100% vampire. Then, it would presumably become part of Carlisle’s vegetarian vampire family. These vampires are seen to have a right to life equal to humans’ in the Twilight series. The abortion question in Breaking Dawn: part 1 is definitely understated, especially considering the film is based on a book written by a devout Mormon in a country with one of the most vocal and militant “pro-life” lobbies in the world.
While Twilight’s only hint of an abortion debate is disagreement over terminology, ‘baby’, ‘foetus’ or ‘thing’, the real conflict is between Bella and others who believe they know what’s best for her. Rosalie is supportive even if it’s for the wrong reasons, but everyone else continually tries to manipulate Bella into having an abortion. They ignore both her intuition, ‘everything’s going to be ok’ and her affirmation, ‘it’s not [Carlisle’s] decision, it’s not any of yours’.
The forces seeking to make the pregnant woman’s decision for her can be seen as patriarchal, from the over-protective husband Edward to the medically informed head of household, Carlisle. Does any of this sound familiar?
Of course, Bella’s situation is the opposite of that which Irish women seeking life-saving abortions find themselves in. Much as these women would like to receive life-saving medical treatment, patriarchal forces deny them this right. 20 years since the landmark Supreme Court ruling on the X case, governments led by 4 successive male Irish Taoisigh have failed to implement the legislation that would give Irish women the choice.
Bella’s physical deterioration throughout Breaking Dawn: part 1 is heart-breaking. She becomes taut and bone-thin, constantly winces and struggles to move around. She is dying. While Bella’s nearest and dearest are appalled that she won’t have an abortion, viewers support her because they instinctively feel that it’s her decision. She has the right to choose to die. Meanwhile, we are appalled that real Irish women in Bella’s situation have no choice but to die.
Thus, we reach the crux of the current Action on X campaign: women must be empowered to make their own choices. This does not mean, and this should be a comfort to anti-abortionists, that if your pregnancy is a danger to your life you have to have an abortion. In fact, as a feminist, I am as appalled by that idea as I am by the current lack of access to that option. It means rather that Action on X is fighting for your right to make your own choices regarding your own body. This is where the term ‘pro-choice’ comes from. As a move consistent with supporting Bella’s right to die in the process of child-bearing, we must support Irish women’s right to choose life. We must legislate for the X case as soon as possible.
To join the campaign for life-saving abortion in Ireland, check out the Action on X Facebook page: www.facebook.com/actiononx2012
On Tuesday February 21st, the Action on X alliance (of which the IFN is a member) held a public meeting in the Gresham Hotel, O'Connell Street entitled, 'Twenty Years After X: Where Are Our Rights?' Below is the text of a passionate and moving speech given on the night by journalist and reproductive rights activist Anthea McTeirnan.
Why must men always fight their battles for control on the bodies of women?
Why can’t women be trusted to make the right choices? Why shouldn’t women be trusted to make the right choices?
We are the experts. We make our choices with careful thought, with intelligent consideration. Sometimes with sadness, sometimes with relief - but always with responsibility.
Our bodies are just that. They are our bodies. It is not a cliché – it is a fact.
We have argued over women’s reproductive rights for so long. The putative womb of Irish women has been kicked around our courts and debating chambers as men in wigs have bickered over whether women in Ireland are fit or capable of making our own decisions.
We have not yet decided whether they are.
We have need of more experts, it seems.
This time the experts will look at implementing the X-Case judgment.
A woman is entitled to an abortion in this State if her life is threatened by her pregnancy, including the risk of suicide. This means that there must be clear medical and psychological criteria for allowing a woman to have an abortion.
And there must be a service provided. She must be able to have that abortion in Ireland. The European Court of Human Rights expects this matter sorted. Twenty years after the Supreme Court made their ruling In the X Case, the human rights of women in Ireland are still being violated.
No more pretending.
No more pretending that the 4,500 abortions that happen each year in England or Holland or Spain - or wherever - are not Irish abortions. They are. The sex was Irish sex, the money to pay for the termination is Irish money, the counselling – before and after – is Irish counselling.
A land of saints and scholars that spews its women like undesirables across the sea at a time of great individual challenge is not one to be proud of.
We now have the opportunity to make amends.
As we speak, men the world over are waging their wars over the bodies of women. The United States is dissolving into a chequerboard of pot luck, where unlucky women needing an abortion find themselves imprisoned in their home States in the land of the free. Women from Utah and Alabama and Indiana must turn to their sisters in New York to help them to travel and pay for a medical procedure with prohibitive restrictions in their home States.
Here in Ireland, we are used to men fighting their battles over our bodies. Yet our own situation has begun to look even more precarious. Across the Irish Sea conservatives like MP Nadine Dorries seek to erect barriers where none previously existed, adding layers of policing and control to the provision of terminations in Britain. This move failed, but we cannot be certain there won't be more attempts.
So we can continue to abandon Irish women to the whims of other jurisdictions or we can drag our post-colonial democracy kicking and screaming into a place where we no longer cede the vindication of the rights of half our population to another state.
We actually have the opportunity to develop a model of best practice. We have the chance to unhook ourselves from a colonial reliance on the land next door. We can do it better – we can have a system that supports the reproductive rights of women, a system that doesn’t seek to judge and moralise and restrict.
And it is not a far-fetched demand to make.
In England, progressive campaigners are demanding that the clause in the 1967 Abortion Act that “the opinion of two registered medical practitioners” must be sought to approve an abortion should be removed. We can provide a service in this country that is progressive, accessible and stripped of moral policing. We can move forward into a new millennium, where a woman seeking a termination is not “mad” or “bad”. There is no need to judge. The woman will decide, the woman must decide.
It is time to stop asking for small measures.
The recent Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 says 30 per cent of election candidates must be women by 2016. A strangely disproportionate choice given that 50 per cent of the population is female. In the words of one of our corporate saviours, providers of the Morning After Pill, Boots the chemist - “here come the girls”. We will increase our numbers in government, but it will mean nothing for our personal autonomy.
We have elected two fine women Presidents, heads of State who embodied the sovereignty of our nation, yet who, as women, never enjoyed sovereignty over their own bodies. An irony of presidential proportions.
Yes we can be presidents, yes we can take our 30 per cent allocation of places on the ballot paper. But as women we can never be equal in a State that embeds discrimination into its Constitution.
If we can afford the cost of a plane ticket and a termination in an English clinic, if we are strong enough during our chemo to walk up the steps of that Ryanair plane, if we can find someone to mind the kids, if we can get out of the country on our visa, if we can find out where, if we can find out how, we can get an abortion.
But that is too many ifs. If we need an abortion, if that is the choice we make, it is time for us to be able to do so here.
Reducing the women of this State to reproductive systems that need policing has to end.
Equality of opportunity will only come from equal rights and equal respect. The time has come for a mature democracy to take mature decisions. It is time to provide a service for medical terminations here.
Women are the expert group. Women can make the right choices. The time has come to trust us.
- Anthea McTeirnan - journalist and reproductive rights activist
We welcome submissions to the blog, subject to editorial review, please contact us if you're interested. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the IFN.