It’s now a few days since the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal the 8thAmendment, a constitutional ban on abortion. Like many others, I flew into Ireland for the Repeal weekend and what I witnessed has moved me deeply. I doubt any person who saw the campaign unfold was left untouched and for those of us in Ireland as the results came in, we’ve been changed forever.
Analysis over the past few days has focused on the grassroots activism used with dramatic effect by repeal campaigners. Recognising that this was an unfair fight from the start, rather than investing huge amounts of energy trying to counter the false and deceitful tactics used by No side, repealers instead turned inwards. If the fight was about women’s right to bodily autonomy and respectful care? It was time to hear from them.
Over the 3 years of this campaign, narratives became crucial in the breaking down of social stigma and deep sense of shame that the topic of abortion carries. Stories like Savita Halappanavar gave an emotional background to debate that was unprecedented in Ireland to this point. The ripple moved further though and into our timelines and consciousness outside of Ireland. This past weekend, I held and comforted many women who told me their own abortion stories or deeply traumatic pregnancy and birth experiences. A sort of collective reopening of wounds was happening and we all felt it, deeply.
This was never as simple as abortion being good vs evil. This was about removing bodily autonomy the moment someone becomes pregnant.
Bearing witness to others stories began a process of healing for many of us. While prolife campaigners will often target the emotional turmoil experience by those who choose termination, narratives began to break down those walls of stigma. I believe the people who told me that while their abortion wasn’t a pleasant experience, the decision to have one was easy. Instead of continuing to amplify a tendency to only focus on so called “hard cases” (i.e. rape), campaigners worked tirelessly to raise up all experiences and end the voice that tells women they’re shameful if they readily get a termination.
The exit poll undertaken by RTÉ shows that over 75% of those voting were affected by the personal stories shared during the campaign. Breaking silence has proven to be one of the most effectively used tools in this campaign and for many, left their anger dwindling as they realised the far reaching implications of the 8thamendment. This was never as simple as abortion being good vs evil. This was about removing bodily autonomy the moment someone becomes pregnant. Tales of unnecessarily traumatic births, pregnancies and terminations bubbled up out of debate and into our homes. Politics had become deeply personal and so had discussion as a result.
My experiences this weekend and in the months leading up to the vote confirm the importance of trusting people’s voices and lived experiences. The first time I heard trans activist Matt Kennedy speak eloquently about the experience of trans, non-binary and intersex people who have been traumatised by the 8th, I fell silent. I was unable to comprehend the level of pain this ban caused. Sitting with my discomfort that day, I realised something that has been proven true this weekend: narratives matter.
We need to maintain this openness. Yes, it is time to heal from the traumas but doing so in silence has been too much for most to bear. The Repeal campaign has shone a light on the importance of holding space for those stories and voices often left unheard. If by holding that space open we hear the needs of sex workers, trans people, disabled people, immigrants, and the working class? We are beginning to see lifelong change.
Acknowledging every layer of this issue is stifled by shame and silencing is what is needed to move forward to safeguard access to effective and safe reproductive health services for everyone. Whether we fight to remove bans that are costing lives or fight to remove the geographical lottery of funding and access, we do better when we trust those who need to access this services. They are telling us their truths now and we all owe it to them to listen.