Pro-Choice Wexford’s new blog

Hello and welcome to Pro-Choice Wexford’s brand new blog! We will be publishing articles by our members and supporters. This will be a venue where all stories will be valued, and anonymity is ensured if you so desire. Email us at prochoicewexford@gmail.com to contribute articles, or to tell us what you’d like to learn more about. 
In solidarity,

Doris, Editor 

Co-Chair of Pro-Choice Wexford post

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The Elusive Pro Choice Man

A couple of weeks ago I had a very illuminating conversation with a close friend, a man like me. We were in the pub to watch the rugby and he asked how the campaigning was going. In our circle of friends we thankfully chat about more than sports, but this instigated quite a long conversation that left me at a bit of a loss.

He was convinced the referendum would pass and I agreed it is polling well, but there are a lot of undecideds and more importantly confusion on the part of the electorate that those campaigning for a no are trying to exploit. It dawned on him that actually yes, someone close to him (a woman) thinks she might vote no because she had seen the manipulative and disrespectful Down Syndrome advertisements. So there we are, not as easy as we thought.

I noted that again this is at odds with the polls for women who are in a vast majority in favour of repeal and that those doubts and lies by pro-life groups are and will be exposed. What was more worrying to me was that how many ‘lads’ were having this very conversation? He paused and said… ‘I don’t know. Most I suppose?’. I then said, ‘think about it this way, the way society groups (I’m not going to go on a long rant about patriarchy don’t worry, I’ll save that for later) together we are generally in crowds socially with ‘the lads’, I’m sure your lunch break at work is the same, or even family gatherings, the lads group together holding a beer, talking about some sort of sport. When does ‘this’ conversation happen?’ It doesn’t.

I think I am very lucky in the friends I have in my life, we are a diverse bunch of men and women who speak about these things, but maybe not often enough. If we aren’t, what hope is there of a bunch of guys deciding that maybe something that affects all the men and women in their lives probably deserves a slot between debating VAR and what the best craft beer is?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past two weeks and not had much of  an answer as to how to tackle it. I’ve brought up issues such as the pay gap/women’s expected roles under patriarchy/sexual harassment in groups outside of my close knit friends in the past to mixed results, but generally there is a dismissing of it by men as not their problem (much the same as many of the twitter threads on ‘lads’ and the eighth amendment in recent days). I try to push the point, but dependent on the context and more often than not I say my piece and the conversation moves on. Do I do this often enough? Do I pursue the issue? I don’t know, probably not and it’s this upcoming referendum that has made this very clear to me.

It is very easy to slot into the caste that is man with beer and sports. This equates to fitting in, it is safe. But, you know what is not safe? Being pregnant in Ireland. This affects everyone, men, women, married, young, old, single, same sex relationships. I guarantee whether you know it or not there is a story of abortion in your group of friends and family. It may have been spoken about, but likely not.

So, what can men do? Firstly acknowledge that there is no time to be complacent. We have unique opportunities to speak with a half of the population that are currently not engaged with this. How we do this is going to be different for everyone. I plan to make sure I speak about this at every moment I can with the men in my life. I will be sending a message into the various WhatsApp/Facebook groups asking my peers to vote for repeal and to speak with me if they have any questions or doubts. I will be speaking to family members at social events (when we are gathered in that beer huddle). I will be continuing to campaign and canvass, but I’ll also be doing my best to drag men out to do the same.

I’ve had long conversations with my dad, who is one of the most compassionate people I know, but struggled with this because of his Catholic upbringing. He now sees it as a healthcare issue and understands that there are a myriad of reasons for an abortion. He may never have chosen that option, but he understands that he was also lucky enough never have to face one of the many reasons for having one and ultimately it is not his body.

Sean Moncrief shared his story this weekend in the Irish Times, the cold Ireland that he illustrated is the very same as the one we have today, one of silence oppression for men and women when faced with difficult decisions. Telling his story shows how men can make a difference. We can talk to each other and make this island a better and more compassionate place. We certainly don’t do a great job of talking to each other at the minute.

Capture

Lad culture can be abhorrent in its lack of depth and empathy and it is only a good thing if we can break a cycle of not talking and seeing the humanity in these issues. Yes, not all men are having incredibly flippant and banter fuelled conversations such as those chronicled by Sarah Maria Griffin, that serve to bolster the notions of dominant masculinity, but it is the mean. Imagine being proud of shouting down a woman, ‘winning’ your ‘debate’. It may not be as vacuous or repugnant as the ‘maleness’ in the tweet thread above, but not talking about these issues only serves to perpetuate this incredibly male problem of not dealing with real problem.

Every story is a deeply personal one and we all have an opportunity to speak with those  closest to us, our casual acquaintances and everyone in between. Every vote will count as well as every story spoken or unspoken. The thought of forcing someone else to travel abroad is horrifying be it for cases of an unviable pregnancy, rape, financial, health or other reasons. Each man you speak with needs to be aware that these things happen, affect them and their loved ones.

The women who have shared their stories are doubly courageous, they have lived their stories and then told them in a context that is not welcoming or easy. It is time that men, especially those who consider themselves Pro-Choice to stand with their friends, sisters and mothers.

Men need to talk about this issue and the consequences of not acting have never been so clear. The ramifications of men not speaking to each other on this issue and others are stark and a massive problem in a society in general. Let’s talk to each other and repeal the eighth amendment.

For those of you with questions or looking for more information some other useful reads are;

https://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie/2015/06/05/8-reasons-to-repeal-the-8th-amendment/

https://www.facebook.com/RepealTheEighth/

https://www.girlcrew.com/men-and-the-eight-amendment-where-are-the-men-in-the-fight-to-repeal/

Find us at;

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Shane

The Bumper Sticker

The car pulled out in front of me. A lovely old man sat in the driver’s seat. He didn’t notice me but I noticed him. I noticed his car – well, the bumper at least.
“I vote Pro-Life”.

To him, I’m sure it was a simple statement of a firm belief and ideology. He dons it on his car as if it were a “Baby on Board” sticker. It looks old and worn, most likely there for many years. I wonder does he even remember it’s there. Or does he even think about it. Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t.

Stopped behind him as the lights turned red, I didn’t see that lovely old man anymore. I saw a man who believes that I am a sinner, a law-breaker and, possibly, a murderer. A wave of sadness and shame came over me. Feelings I had put aside many years ago, having apparently “dealt” with those issues. (I’d like to add that I dealt with those issues, for the most part, alone. This was partly due to the stigma of admitting to anyone that you’ve had an abortion, but also, because it’s so bloody hard to find anyone who can provide proper, trained, specialised post-abortion counselling in Ireland). But here it is again. The shame returns.

I had my reasons for having an abortion and I don’t need to explain them to anyone. But it wrecked me. It wrecked me not because I felt regret or that I had done anything wrong morally. It wrecked me and caused years of emotional instability and mental ill-health because I couldn’t talk about it. The loneliness and shame that comes with being an Irish woman who has had an abortion was torturous. Just because abortion is not legal in Ireland, does not mean that Irish women have not had abortions. This fact is Ireland’s modern day scandal.

When I saw that bumper sticker I wondered, does this old man have a daughter? Or a wife? A granddaughter? A niece? What if they were the in the car behind, staring at that sticker and feeling the judgement that I felt. I had a grandfather that I know would have proudly donned that sticker on his car. What would he have thought of his granddaughter?

Think of your mother, your sister or your daughter. Think of your wife, your friends and your colleagues. Not providing abortion just means that when they travel abroad for an abortion, they return to a country of silence and shame.

I still haven’t told my family or most of my friends about my abortion. The fear of judgement is huge but 12 years of secrecy is weighing heavy. I would love to empty my baggage once and for all, exclaiming from the rooftops that I had an abortion but I’m still a good person. But I can’t. Not yet. Not in this Ireland. Maybe I should, to help the cause. But then I remember the bumper sticker.

 

Anon.

 

A Day of Testimonies: by Doris Murphy

I was lucky enough to attend A Day of Testimonies in Project Arts Centre, organised by the excellent Artists Repeal the 8th Campaign, on Saturday 26th August. This day long event comprised of screenings of films about abortions and/or the 8th Amendment; performances; a workshop with Union of Students Ireland’s Síona Cahill and Amnesty’s Sorcha Tunney, accompanied by the always wonderful Tara Flynn, on how to talk about Repeal; and a ticketed event which I will talk about now.
The evening event “A Day of Testimonies” featured famous theatre actors and writers reading the real stories of women who have been impacted by the 8th Amendment. There was accompanying music from Lisa O’Neill; a clarinet and harp duo, and a flautist, which helped to create the atmosphere; and hauntingly beautiful poetry from Paula Meehan. However, the stories were always going to be the main event, and they did not disappoint. I am still shook to the core by the story of Miss Y, told through the medium of Kitty Holland articles, and interviews with her legal counsel. The continued mismanagement, red tape, and chilling inhumanity towards a vulnerable youth were gut-wrenching. She was the victim of kidnapping, and repeated rape and torture in her home country, and came to Ireland to seek refuge. Instead she found herself pregnant, and refused abortion despite her suicide attempts. She managed to raise funds to travel to England, but was deported on arrival as she did not have correct papers. Her story makes me ashamed to be Irish. So much for the country of “céad míle fáilte”.
Marian Keyes told Amy’s story. Amy’s pregnancy was wanted and cherished, but unfortunately her baby was diagnosed with a Fatal Foetal Abnormality. She might survive the birth, but would be in pain. Amy had not wanted to terminate the pregnancy, but the thought of her baby being in pain for her last moments forced her to consider an alternative. Amy decided that a painless termination would be her final act of mothering for her sick baby. She traveled to England with her husband and completed this act of mothering, with love, far away from home and her trusted medical team.
We heard the story of a 16 year old who got pregnant, and was sent to a Mother and Baby home. She spent a week with her baby, before he was given up for adoption. The same woman got pregnant at age 19, and traveled with her boyfriend to England to get an abortion as they were not in a financial position to be parents. They had to borrow money from her sister to afford the trip and procedure.
I was saddened by each story, and maddened by the story of Lorraine. She was a young widow, who was raped by a friend who had dropped her home after a night out. She became pregnant from this horrific attack, and was despairing. She told her friend, who supported her and arranged a weekend trip for them to England to procure an abortion. So ended her nightmare experience.
We heard the story of Savita Halappanavar, a familiar story in Irish media. She contracted septicaemia, but doctors would not terminate until the foetal heartbeat stopped, or until there was a significant risk to Savita’s health. Savita had pre-eclampsia, and finally both she and her baby were lost. Savita and her husband requested a termination repeatedly, but they were told “It’s a Catholic country” despite the fact that they were not Catholics. This story highlighted the awful position doctors are put in by the 8th Amendment, waiting until a woman is “sick enough”, contravening totally the Hippocratic Oath.
There were many “normal” stories, of abortions for myriad reasons. The support of sisters, friends, and parents was extolled time and again, whether financial, emotional, health, or child-minding. 
The brutality of the government and the anti-choicers was apparent in the stories. There is a blatant disregard in Ireland for the mental health and autonomy of women and girls. These harrowing stories should be heard by all Irish people, especially those who oppose Repeal. There was much solidarity amongst a visibly upset audience afterwards, and we were galvanised to battle on, in memory of all of these people abused by the 8th Amendment.
It is TIME TO ACT. March for Choice 30th September, join us, march with us. It’s time. 

The Anti-Choice Brigade. By Doris Murphy

I’m pro-choice. I’m not an extremist, I simply believe in bodily autonomy for all. I’m an activist, and will be a willing and energetic canvasser whenever the referendum comes around. I’m a co-founder of Pro-Choice Wexford, and at a recent strategy meeting proposed having a bigger presence on Main Street during the weekend. Anti-choicers colonise the Bullring and Main Street every Saturday, and I thought an alternative presence might be interesting. We discussed the idea, and decided to conserve our energy for now, to avoid volunteer fatigue, which is so rampant during these emotional campaigns.

However, last Saturday, I was strolling through town with my sister and niece, and came across the Save the 8th crew. They were holding a professionally printed banner, which featured a picture of a child with Down Syndrome. My blood boiled. I strode over to politely tell them that I find their use of people with disabilities in their propaganda abhorrent. The women immediately got defensive, and said that they knew many families of “Down Syndrome children” who supported their campaign, and who had marched in their “March for Life”. I explained that I work with children with Down Syndrome, and think it is exploitative in the extreme. But, they replied “Down Syndrome children” are targeted by us nasty Repealers. I noted that they are children first, and that Down Syndrome is secondary to their humanity, so to please refer to them as people with Down Syndrome. “That’s beside the point” they howled. The women were getting flustered and went on the offensive at this stage, and decided to blind with me statistics. Lies, damn lies, and statistics, could be their new tag line. Did I know that 90% of “Down Syndrome babies” are aborted in Britain? That’s incorrect I responded, please quote me that research. Interestingly, their statistics are taken from outdated and misinterpreted studies, but these campaigners could not even quote this research. Their head honcho arrived over to see what the kerfuffle was, as their youngest member had lost her cool and was basically roaring random tag lines at me, enraged by my considered replies. Did I know, proclaimed head honcho, that 90% of “Down Syndrome babies” are aborted in Britain? “She said that’s incorrect” responded her shouty counterpart. AS FAR AS I KNOW IT’S TRUE responded head honcho. As far as she knows. As far as she knows I’m the Queen of Spain, but I don’t hear her roaring that on the streets. This blatant disregard for facts simply has to be challenged. Every sentence uttered by the pro-choice campaign is picked apart with a fine-tooth  comb, the nuance, content, and tone analysed and attacked by mainstream media outlets and various conservative commentators. But official Save the 8th campaigners, wearing their high-vis jackets, holding their expensive banners, are casually and calculatedly lying to the public. They don’t expect to be challenged, and go into immediate offensive mode, like trapped animals. “As far as I know 90% of ‘Down Syndrome babies’ are aborted in Britain, and all of the ‘Down Syndrome babies’ in Iceland”. Cold hard lies, told in gentle voices, by unthreatening campaigners, in knitted cardigans under their high-vis jackets. “Do you want to see ‘Down Syndrome children’ wiped out?”. PEOPLE WITH DOWN SYNDROME, I managed through gritted teeth. Shouty woman responded “Oh you care about what we call them, but you don’t care about people tearing their arms and legs off during abortions?” Oh my. The mask is off, the demon rears its ugly head. Head honcho panics and says “God bless you have a good day” and attempts to move between myself and the shouty, tone-deaf campaigner. I smile, and say “Yes, I care about language, I care about tone, I care about the impact your message has on passersby, I care about people with disabilities, I care about people who have had to make the toughest decisions for myriad reasons”.

This is the kernel of the campaign. Pro-choicers care, deeply, about the people at the heart of this discussion. It is this respect for the rights of others that leads us to fight for those who cannot. We are not extremists, we are not murderers, we do not pull foetuses limb from limb. We are normal folk, who mind our own business, and wish the best for our neighbours. We do not spout lies on the streets of Ireland. We are not going to force anyone to have an abortion, nor are we going to judge anyone who chooses to have an abortion. There is no shame. There is only unconditional support. I know which side I’d rather be on. I’m going to be on the right side of history. I hope you’ll join me. As far as I know, you’re sound, so you surely will.

Repeal the 8th Amendment. By Doris Murphy

I am a feminist. I believe in equal rights for all genders. I believe that nobody should be discriminated against based on their genitalia or lack thereof. For years I have been frustrated by Irish society, which is so inherently sexist. Ireland has always vaunted women; the “Irish mammy” is a cliché which we propagate regularly. A frightening amount of men claim to be “Mammy’s boys” on their Tinder bios, which they feel will awaken our own inner mammies, allowing them to transition smoothly from being babied by their mothers to being mollycoddled by their girlfriends. The modern Irish man appears to be a fictitious beast, with a few shining exceptions: Bressie with his ability to speak out about mental health and wellness; the Happy Pear boys, Stephen and David Flynn, with their passion for healthy cooking and yoga; my pals Tom and Mike, who are well-read, well-dressed, and well able to look after themselves.

Ireland has been held up as a beacon of friendliness and neighbourliness for many years. It is a place where you can leave your door open, where you can walk home alone at night, without fear of assault. Last year, Ireland proved itself to be more progressive than I could possibly have hoped, when we voted for the legalisation of equal marriage. I drank Prosecco with my sister while watching the count, and celebrated for the full weekend. How lucky we were, to live in this little green country with a big heart!

There is one area where our country is utterly heartless, and that is in its treatment of expectant mothers, dealing with crisis pregnancies. The numbers are well-documented, 12 women a day travelling to Britain for abortions. Just this week #twowomentravel was trending on Twitter, as two brave souls live-tweeted their trip to England to procure an abortion. The writing was not sensationalist, merely despondent. These two women could have been any of us. They were not looking for 15 minutes of fame. They simply shared one of their most harrowing journeys with the nation, the world, and Enda Kenny. They tagged Enda Kenny, our elected leader at the time, in all of their tweets. He did not have the courage or graciousness to respond to one tweet. Simon Harris, Minister for Health, acknowledged the issue, but half-heartedly alluded to the Citizen’s Assembly, rather than calling for a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment.

The Repeal Project, Repeal 8, Free Safe Legal, and a number of other organisations have been rallying together over the last few months, and have organised a March for Choice on 30th September in Dublin. This is an opportunity for all those interested in equal rights to show the government, and the world, how serious we are about this cause. It has been a very visual campaign thus far; the REPEAL jumpers have been an internet sensation. The stark white letters against a black backdrop are immediately recognisable, and are so empowering. I read an account of a woman who had recently had an abortion, who said how supported and lifted she feels when she passes someone in a REPEAL jumper. That such a small gesture can be interpreted like this highlights how little support Irish women actually receive on the subject of abortions.

I always try to have an open mind, and to entertain opinions which are vastly different to my own. As Aristotle put it “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. I struggled somewhat with this during the Marriage Referendum, as I find it so foreign that people would want to actively stop two loving people being together and happy. While it was slightly facetious, I had to agree with the people saying “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married”. The same tenet applies to the abortion debate: If you don’t like abortion, don’t get an abortion. That people are so comfortable playing God with other people’s lives is terrifying and fascinating all at once. The comments section on any online article, which reveals the murky underbelly of society, is rife with middle-aged men extolling the virtues of carrying pregnancies to term. This group seems an unlikely bunch to be availing of abortion anytime soon, yet they feel absolutely entitled to shout about the indecency of the procedure. More frustratingly still, there are a lot of women who hide behind the veneer of religion and piety, and make these women out to be flagrant hussies, who drop their knickers at will, with nary a thought for the consequences. Their lack of compassion is chilling. They condescendingly list contraception, and emergency contraception, as if accidents never happened, and people are knowingly becoming pregnant just to cause a stir and get an abortion. I’m certain nobody chooses that path. Who would willingly travel to England for a costly surgical procedure, with little or no after-care, and the possibility of facing criminal charges in Ireland? Nobody I know of.

Interestingly, society seems to treat abortion differently, depending on the reason for it.

  1. The foetus is not viable, or has a fatal foetal abnormality: Understandable and very sad, but maybe the mother should be stoic and carry the baby to term, and then be a grieving mother and receive boundless sympathy.
  2. Childbirth may kill the mother: Understandable and also sad, but it’s a toss-up as to whose life is more worthy of saving.
  3. The foetus was conceived by rape/incest: Understandable, but it’s not the baby’s fault is it? I am enraged by this viewpoint, as if it is the mother’s fault, silly girl getting raped.
  4. The mother is suicidal: Oh don’t be silly, she can get medication or counselling, it’s not the baby’s fault.
  5. The woman does not want to have a baby: SHAME! SLUT! REPENT! Abortion on demand will be the death of all of our Christian beliefs.

The term “Abortion on demand” is an emotive one, used repeatedly by the anti-choice brigade. It suggests drive-thru abortion clinics, which you swing by on a Sunday before going for the cure. It brings to mind queues of “demanding” women, having repeat surgical procedures rather than buying the pill or condoms. It is a calculated term, suggesting that people will have abortions willy-nilly, as they are so easily available.

The anti-choice brigade is wily in their wording. They refer to themselves as pro-life. They obviously refer to the life of the foetus, not the life of the mother. They should actually be referred to as pro-pregnancy, pro-birth, and pro-existence. Once the baby is born they have no interest in what happens. The baby has not been murdered, God’s will has been done, and they are justified. They do not stick around to see the baby, unwanted and unloved, perhaps in abject poverty, perhaps born to a mentally unwell mother who cannot provide the love and stability a baby needs. They do not care if the baby is living in squalor, with a migrant mother who cannot get a job as she cannot speak the language. They do not care if the baby is living with a mother who drinks herself into a stupor every night to numb the memories of the sexual abuse she suffered that resulted in this baby. They do not care, as the baby is living, and they are pro-life.

We, as a country, are failing women; women who are at their most vulnerable, pregnant women who do not know who to turn to, for fear of judgement or pity. These women should be cherished, cared for, and supported. They should not have to book flights to a foreign country, to access healthcare which should be freely available in their local hospital. As many people have said, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be available in every clinic. Women are not second class citizens. Women are equal humans, deserving of equitable healthcare and respect. Women should be afforded the most basic human right: Bodily autonomy. We trust women in one of the most challenging roles, becoming a mother. We should trust women to choose whether or not this path is for them. We should trust women. Women are equal. Trust women.