This morning saw the launch of #GrandparentsForRepeal in the Board Room of Buswell’s Hotel. The room was absolutely jammed with people who’d come to hear from and support the main speakers. Carol Hunter, who founded G4R, spoke first – about the need for older people to talk to each other and share the experience and wisdom they have gained through years of living. Liz MacManus, Catherine McGuinness and Gemma Hussey took us back to 1983 and across decades of change to the present.
Gemma Hussey reminded us that no one really knew (or admitted to knowing) where the impulse for the 8th arose. There was an organisation called PLAC (Pro-Life Amendment Campaign), an idea that abortion was about to arrive on our shores like a foreign invasion and some leaflets saying that x or y politician was ‘soft’ on abortion. They never found out who was behind those leaflets – but momentum built towards the 1983 referendum. Peter Sutherland, Attorney General at the time, warned that the amendment was unsound and unsafe but was shouted down by louder voices.
All of the speakers paid tribute to the work of the late Monica Barnes, whose funeral took place that same morning. They also recognised the work of Frank Crummey and Ailbhe Smyth, both of whom were in the front row and contributed to the proceedings.
All of the speakers were calm and clear about the devastation the 8th Amendment has caused in the lives of women and families. Grandparents for Repeal brings the concept of family and intergenerational impact into the picture. All of the older people in the room remembered the Ireland that allowed the 8th Amendment onto the statute books. Liz MacManus recalled being a young TD addressing the Dail on the issue of abortion and being afraid for the first time as she looked around the chamber and saw all the men in suits, only a scattering of women – and knew that they had been addressed by priests, an immam, a rabbi, doctors and lawyers and not one single woman who had direct lived experience of the issue they were debating and would legislate on.
The parents of two women who had to travel to England for terminations of non-viable pregnancies described their experience. One woman brought the house down reminding us all of the furtive transactions (‘no eye contact’) that had to be undergone monthly to acquire what was known as bona fide contraception, the five children outside in the car (’Loose!’ she reminded us. ‘No car seats then!’) and how she and her husband used to take turns because they hated doing it. Another woman spoke about how she, a midwife, and her husband, a GP, could not believe that their daughter could get no medical help when she was told her anencephalic baby would not survive birth. ‘She was expected,’ this woman said with immense dignity and sorrow, ‘to be a life support machine for a baby that would die when her pregnancy ended.’
Ireland has changed. The very notion that there might have been a group called Grandparents for Repeal would have been unthinkable in 1983. Catherine McGuinness believes the perceived divisions between older and younger voters, or between rural and urban voters, are exaggerated. Carol Hunter started Grandparents for Repeal to initiate and reinforce conversations with and among older people who have enough life experience to understand a need for compassion and to know, as she puts it, that life is not black and white. Gemma Hussey said we have a chance to put something right that has caused endless heartache in Ireland in the intervening 35 years. I suppose the big question is, have we changed enough?
The Catholic Bishop of Cloyne, Dr William Crean, has advised us not to think about sad and painful cases. By that I suppose he means real people, real families, people who live real lives in the real world. I’m sorry, but I don’t think he would know or understand the first thing about this. https://bit.ly/2FTH2UV
Dr Fergus O’Ferrall, Lay Leader of Conference in the Methodist Church, has reminded us that leaders of other churches opposed the original amendment. He says that church leaders who preach otherwise miss the point. They ignore the reality of abortion in Ireland and the need to face up to providing better services for the women who will seek out abortion no matter how difficult the obstacles. He says that defending the retention of article 40.3.3. is a morally defective stance and that it seems those church leaders have not studied the real legal, medical and moral issues in our current situation. https://bit.ly/2K1UJ6k
The campaign is turning dirty, with vile, unattributed posters being put up outside schools and hospitals; with the abuse and manipulation of language; with the sinister use of digital dirty tricks to disseminate misinformation in order to sway undecided voters. Grandparents for Repeal was founded to encourage open, direct conversations that include the perspective of people who have experience of their own and have witnessed the suffering and difficult choices made by women, couples, families in the last 35 years.
(By the way, for an account of the chilling events in and around reproductive choice in the 1980s, see Emily O’Reilly’s Mastermind of the Right )
I am voting Yes because:
- I want pregnant women to have the same constitutional rights as every other citizen in this country; to have confidence that their medical teams will see their needs as paramount and act according to their best interests; and to have the right to give and withhold consent to medical procedures – a right that other citizens take for granted.
- I want everyone to stop assuming that women will opt for abortion in any crisis. Choice means considering all available options and making an informed decision to do what’s right for the individuals concerned. No-one else’s business.
- I want Ireland to grow up and act like a republic. I want us stop exporting our problems for other countries to deal with.
- Growing another life inside your own life and body is an incredibly intense experience. To harbour a wanted child is extraordinary, magical, rich. But imagine, after a violation such as rape, an unwanted being growing and moving around inside you for forty weeks. Some women will choose to go ahead with such a pregnancy. Some may even find it healing but that has to be their choice.
- When conception occurs, there is only a potential for independent life. That potential needs to be fed and protected via the physical resources of a separate individual. If the personal cost to that individual is too high, for whatever reason – well, only she has the right to make that judgement.
- Abortion is difficult. You may be opposed to it in principle but do you really feel you have the right to dictate to other people: women, couples, families, no matter what their circumstances? The whole entire difference between people who are pro-choice and people who oppose choice is that pro-choice people might well imagine they would never have an abortion themselves, may hope to god they never find themselves in a situation where they suddenly need one – but they allow other people the democratic right to make their own life-changing decisions to suit their own circumstances, their own families, their own lives.