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
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