I travel fairly frequently, and my work also sends me to London a few times a year, so I often find myself making my way through Dublin Airport in a sleepy daze at 6am. Security screening is always busy at that time of the morning, as the commuter flights fill up.
You can tell the seasoned travellers apart from the one-time holiday makers easily in the queues. Those unaccustomed to air travel invariably have two or three clear plastic bags filled with cosmetics far over the 100ml limit, they forget to remove iPads from their bags, are surprised when asked to take off their shoes, repack their belongings while still taking up space along the conveyor belt, and generally get in the way of those who just want to get through there as quickly and efficiently as possible.
And then, occasionally, you see a solo woman, looking exhausted and stressed, clutching just one small bag. Or perhaps a couple, holding onto each other’s arms, the woman teary, the man carrying their only piece of luggage. Twelve women travel from Ireland to the UK every day to access healthcare procedures and compassion that should be available to them in their own country. Each time I make my way through Dublin Airport for the 6.40am Aer Lingus flight to Heathrow, I’m constantly aware that even if I can’t see them, these people are around me, suffering quietly.
For anyone reading outside Ireland, the 8th amendment to the Constitution of Ireland states “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” The effect of this is not only to outlaw abortion, but also to place the right to life of a pregnant person on the same level as that of a zygote, and to place barriers in the way of pregnant people accessing certain medical treatments. It does not eliminate Irish abortions, but rather forces Irish people to travel abroad for them, or for those who cannot afford to travel, to obtain abortion pills illegally and self-administer them without medical supervision. The 8th amendment does not stop abortions from happening, it only makes them either unsafe or extremely cumbersome.
This has resulted in some horrific news stories, such as a legally dead woman being kept artificially alive on life support for almost a month against her family’s wishes due to the foetus she was carrying, and a woman presenting to hospital miscarrying and dying of sepsis days later because the hospital could/would not end her pregnancy. That doesn’t even take into account the countless tragic versions of the same awful story of grieving parents of an unviable pregnancy being forced to travel for a termination rather than wait for the inevitable death of a foetus with no prospect of being born alive, of traumatised rape survivors forced to endure further trauma by travelling or by risking unsupervised illegal abortions, or of the countless people who make the decision not to become parents at this time and who are not afforded that choice in Ireland.
The Abortion Rights Campaign, the Coalition to Repeal the 8th and numerous other pro-choice organisations are heading up a huge campaign to repeal the 8th amendment. Currently a Citizens Assembly is discussing and debating the need for a referendum to repeal the 8th. This assembly is a delaying tactic designed by a conservative government in order to shirk the responsibility of taking a lead on the issue.
That’s why next Wednesday, 8th March, International Women’s Day, a nationwide strike is planned to protest our government’s inaction. Strike4Repeal rejects the Citizens Assembly, and is not a traditional strike, but a symbolic action that will see thousands of women and supporters take a day off work, stage walkouts on their lunch breaks, withdraw their domestic labour or otherwise show solidarity with the women who have to take time off work to travel to access abortion services. Direct actions are planned across the country, most notably a Strike Assembly on O’Connell Bridge in Dublin at 12.30pm. Later, thousands will march from Parnell Square to government buildings to demand a referendum.
I’m lucky enough to be performing that night in a show of solidarity raising funds for the Abortion Rights Campaign. I’ll be performing my Repeal the 8th aerial silks act as part of No Assembly Required alongside musicians, comedians, burlesque performers and more at the Sugar Club on Leeson Street at 8pm.
My next trip to London will be in April. When I visit, English friends and colleagues are always shocked when I tell them about the horror we put so many pregnant people through in Ireland. Access to free, safe and legal abortion services is automatic and unquestioned in their minds, and I often find them stunned to hear that a country like Ireland, so close to them and so like them in so many ways, can be so stuck in a macabre dark age where women are treated as second class. Dublin Airport in the early morning will remind me of that, as it always does.