Why Repealing The Eighth Amendment Is Righting A Historical Wrong

Image via  Anphoblacht

Image via Anphoblacht

"Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I'll dig with it."

Digging, Seamus Heaney

After months of suspense, the date of the Irish abortion referendum is finally within sight.  The 25 of May, that will be the day when the century-old republic will make a historic decision to either repeal or conserve it’s 8th amendment. The scenario has been predictably set- the usual camps (Pro-Life, Pro-Choice) have formed. Opinion pieces and articles and slogans weave the opposing narratives, and the crowd sits and awaits, sometimes with hope, sometimes with a gutwrenching fear.

My overzealous surname hardly shrouds my identity as the granddaughter of Irish immigrants who arrived here in the early 1960s, only a few years before abortion was legalised in the UK. The same catholic-nationalist cocoon my grandparents formed for my parents soon morphed into the house my sisters and I grew up in. Like families in the Republic and its far stretching diaspore, catholicism was and is an integral and part of our national identity , and, is not to be questioned . Your ancestors had fought and starved, and sung, and died because of that. You were baptised and doing your First Holy Communion and Confirmation and that was it. As a child and adolescent, I never quibbled with the faith part, or even the mass part really. But as I grew older, and examined this inscrutable belief system that had informed my entire world , it became clear that it was a landscape occupied by a gaping contradiction.

The centuries old fight for the land- our land and our home, and the autonomy, and liberty that represented was the backbone of millions of identities. The freedom it had bequeathed to us now made it the stuff of celebration and pride- and rightly so. Throughout the Irish community, the road to self determination and reappropriation is the key stone of lyric – the most painful of substances crafted by Heaney and Yeats and Pearse.

And yet, not the body. The body of the woman could and can never be her own. It hangs in the hands of the State, whose values and laws cower under the unwavering glare of the Church. Should she fall pregnant, by consensual sex, or rape, or incest, the laws and authorities will occupy her, and there can be no choice, no consent, no fight. She is reduced to a mere physical form. There can only be scowls, and pain, and shame and she can only be silent.

With pride ‘Óró sé do bheatha abhaile’ ( 'Welcome Home') is sung, and yet we force the women of our nation to go abroad because they are deprived of rights to their own body.

In 1916, in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic it was written: ‘We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible…The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens…’

The Provisional Government sought to liberate its citizens, establish rights to which their people were long entitled . A control of one’s land and one’s own destiny- consent and autonomy over the nation and the self. However, the 8th Amendment is testament to the fact that citizenship is a uniquely male experience. By enshrining in law the equal right to life of the unborn foetus and the woman who bears it, it is clear that the status of the female is relegated a mere member of the polity who the citizen is 'protecting'. She is prohibited from experiencing the freedom envisioned for all by the fathers of the Republic.

Often the debate surrounding abortion is pulled apart by hysterical untruths and misogynistic constructs which seek to demonise women and paint the status quo as a protection of society from what would otherwise be a libertine mayhem. But when it comes down to it, this debate is not a moralistic one, no matter how much scorn and judgement fills the media and argument. This is a matter of citizenship, ownership and rights. The real question being asked in the referendum on the 25th of May is no more complicated than this: do you believe in the consent, autonomy and rights of all Irish citizens, regardless of sex?

Article by Olivia Lynch-Kelly