Remains of children ranging from new-born to three years old discovered in sewers of a former Catholic Church-run home.
Thousands of people across Ireland went on strike yesterday in solidarity with women who are forced to travel to the UK to access abortions which are banned in their own country.
Strike4Repeal campaigners marched in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kilkenny as well as around the UK, and in New York, Melbourne and Buenos Aires, to demand the Irish government hold a constitutional referendum on Ireland’s eighth amendment – which places the right to life of an unborn child on equal footing with that of the mother.
Organisers asked citizens to take the day off work, forgo domestic chores where possible, wear black in solidarity, register support on social media and ask local businesses to close their services.
“Thousands of people took time off work last year to access abortions – we are asking you to show your solidarity with them,” said a video message by Strike4Repeal, which asked people to strike if a referendum was not held by March 8.
In an act of resistance, demonstrators chanted “Get your rosaries off our ovaries” and “This is what democracy looks like” as they halted traffic in the hope that the Irish government would hear their voices.
The eighth amendment, which was passed in 1983, recognised the right to life of the unborn child, effectively introducing a ban on abortion. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 allows for abortions only if the woman’s life is immediately threatened, including by suicide.
Al Jazeera joined women and men on the streets of Dublin to get their thoughts on abortion rights in Ireland.
Larissa Nolan, 40, is a journalist who describes her political views as libertarian. She lives in Dublin with her son.
“I’m pro-life and in Ireland, if you say that openly, you’re a social pariah. The so-called pro-choice movement has become increasingly militant and intolerant of views which are different to theirs. I’m at the march today as an exercise in social observation. I’m curious to see if people at the march understand fully what they are marching for. This campaign has become a bandwagon, which is forcing a one-sided ideology down people’s throats and now they want people to stop work to force the government into ceding to their demands.
“I don’t believe in telling a woman what to do either way. Give them the facts, be non-judgmental and let them figure it out. I’m quite outspoken about being pro-life, but other women – and there are lots of them – feel they are better off keeping their thoughts to themselves for fear of being attacked. But I fear come referendum day, they will let their votes do the talking. I think the movement could see a shock result like Brexit or Trump.
“I don’t think abortions are a black and white issue. By their very nature, abortions require quick decision-making and the repeal movement has absolutely no time for the psychological consequences a woman can suffer after making what could be the wrong decision.”
Helen Guinane is a 38-year-old mother of two who works in IT. She is part of the group Parents for Choice which marched with the Strike4Repealers.
“What people don’t know is that 54 percent of abortions accessed in the UK are by people who are already parents. People think abortions are exclusive to people in their 20s, but they’re not. Parents access abortions for a number of reasons – either they already have a family and can’t afford more children or had a situation where contraception didn’t work, are lone parents, or victims of abuse.
“There are endless situations why people have to terminate a pregnancy and whatever people decide, it should be their choice and not that of the government. I genuinely think that if we have abortions in Ireland, people will be able to make a more measured decision.
“The fear and anxiety women have about travelling consumes their decisions. If they know they can have abortions in their own country, they can actually focus on the issue a lot more.”
Bernadette Goulding is a co-ordinator at Rachel’s Vineyard, which offers support and weekend retreats for women and men suffering from post-abortion trauma. She spoke to Al Jazeera from Cork.
“The pro-abortion lobby never talk about it – the grief and trauma women and men can suffer after having an abortion. My retreats are always booked up. People think an abortion [is] just a temporary thing, but it can affect you for the rest of your life. I have met so many people who have been damaged by it. Sometimes it takes decades for people to acknowledge the pain.
“I’ve had 70-year-old women come to my retreats, who regret abortions they had when they were 20. As a society, we don’t understand abortion.
“I had an abortion and went into denial about it for years. I told myself for years that the circumstances were wrong, but my child is gone forever and will never be replaced. After I went through this horrible grief, I realised there must be other women out there who feel the same way. That’s why I founded the retreat and various other services. I’ve been all around the world, helping people who had abortions. I feel sorry for the pro-choice campaigners, because I think they are missing the point.”
Ruth Murphy is a 25-year-old who works in accounts. She took the day off work to strike for the repeal of the 8th amendment.
“My boss was happy to let me take the time out for an important cause. I’ve forgone a day’s wages, but I’m in a privileged position to be able to do that. I think it’s important for me to be here today. I’m angry. I think women should be able to make decisions for themselves. It’s not up to the government to interfere.
“Amongst my close friends, none of us have had abortions, but that doesn’t make me feel like I shouldn’t get involved. The Catholic Church in Ireland has controlled too many aspects of Irish society, including women’s reproductive rights, and I think this generation will try its best to put an end to it. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to having an abortion, but hopefully, that will change soon.”
Stephen Quinn is a 28-year-old from Dublin who works in theatre. He is galvanised by the mostly youth-driven movement, which is standing up to the establishment.
“In 2015, the gay marriage referendum was passed in Ireland and there has been so much energy amongst young people who want to see real change. We’re going to make significant inroads into changing the way Irish people think and feel about certain aspects of life.
“Ireland is still a secular place, and we need a separation between church and state. I went to a Catholic secondary school and its teachings affected me deeply. This is a very flamboyant movement, that’s why I’ve been inspired to dress up. I know lots of men who are pro-choice and resisting the male-dominated culture that we live in.”
Fern Doonan is a 25-year-old bar worker who originally hails from West Cork in southern Ireland. She wants women to no longer be limited in their lives and choices.
“The abortion laws in Ireland are draconian. It’s your uterus, your decision. Women are powerful, but we are limited in our lives and we shouldn’t be. Having an abortion is a really difficult decision for anyone to take, made worse by the fact that they have to travel. We’re exporting an issue.
“Having a pro-life view is outdated. The thing is that not everyone is ready for a child, and it’s unfair for a child to be born into a world where no one can nourish them and protect them. It’s inhumane to expect people to be parents when they’re not equipped to be. This is an incredible movement and one I am proud to be part of.”