Ireland Is Striking For Abortion Rights On International Women’s Day

by Aoife Riach

On January 31st 1984, 15-year-old Ann Lovett made her way to a statue of the Virgin Mary in her small town in rural Ireland, and gave birth — alone — in the grass. Hours later, passersby discovered her, but it was too late. The baby boy was dead and Ann herself, hemorrhaging heavily, died while waiting for an ambulance.

The local community, including the nuns at the Catholic school she attended, claimed to have known nothing about her pregnancy.

28 years later, in University Hospital Galway on the west coast of Ireland, a 31-year-old dentist named Savita Halappanavar suffered a septic miscarriage. She asked hospital staff for a termination but was refused. Savita delivered a stillborn girl on 24th October 2012 and died four days later.

It came out in the inquest that when explaining to Savita why she would not be given a life-saving abortion, a midwife had told her, “This is a Catholic country.’

Four months before the tragic death of Ann Lovett in 1984, the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland was introduced, which equates the life of a fetus to the life of the pregnant person, and prevents the possibility of a judicial ruling legalizing abortion. The 8th amendment endangers the lives of pregnant people in Ireland, and prevents doctors and medical staff from giving them the care they require. There is no exception for rape, incest or cases of fatal fetal abnormalities under the law and no person of childbearing age has had a say on it. Despite the fact that 87% of the Irish population support expanding access to abortion, the Irish government refuses to call a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment.

If you need an abortion in Ireland, you must travel to the UK, or risk a 14-year prison sentence for taking abortion pills at home. 11 women a day travel from the island overseas to procure an abortion, taking on the financial strains of travelling, the psychological effects of having a serious medical procedure so far from home, and the physical complications of often having to make the journey straight back to Ireland with no recovery time, to avoid the extra costs of staying overnight, or to get back to work the next day.

The UN has described Ireland’s abortion laws as violating the human right to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and yet the government has failed to take any meaningful action. So on International Women’s Day, March 8th, Irish people are taking action of their own, and holding a national strike.

Strike4Repeal, is a “group of activists, academics, artists, and trade unionists” demanding a referendum be called on this issue before March 8th, otherwise there will be a national strike on that day. Over 40 organizations have declared the support for the strike, and solidarity events are taking place around the globe. The group recognizes that not everyone can strike in the traditional way and lists ways in which everyone can participate, including asking those less affected by the 8th to cover their co-workers’ shifts to allow them to strike:

If you can strike, do.

If it’s possible, book a day off work in advance.

If you are less affected by the lack of abortion provision in this country, show your solidarity by offering to cover colleagues’ hours on the 8th of March.

Wear all black or a black armband on the day to signify your support.

Stage an event at 12 noon or on your lunch break to remember the 12 women who have been forced to travel for abortion that day, and every day.

If you are a business owner, consider giving a day off to your employees or completely closing the business on that day, with no cost to your staff.

Withdraw your domestic labor on the day if possible. Consider all the work that you’d typically do on that day, and how withdrawing from it might highlight the contribution that you and millions make every day to a country where we do not have access to basic healthcare.

Irish people have waited long enough for safe and legal abortion, and too many women like Savita Halappanavar and Ann Lovett have paid the price for the government’s cowardice.

In the words of Strike 4 Repeal, “We have remained patient in the face of this injustice for a long time – our patience is wearing thin”

For more information find Strike 4 Repeal on Facebook and Twitter.

Top Photo: Facebook

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