On Thursday, December 20th 2018, our recently reappointed President Michael D. Higgins (affectionately referred to as Miggedly Higgins), signed the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill of 2018 into law. The final flourishes required to give the gift of choice to the women of Ireland will be applied by Minister for Health Simon Harris, via the signing of statutory instruments. This was preceded by many weeks of consternation and heated debate in Ireland’s houses of Parliament – the Dáil and the Seanad (Senate).
The referendum, held in May 2018, did not allow for postal voting. This, to me, is a tool of control. I didn’t have a choice to vote for a referendum which I have been eagerly awaiting and interested in. Like many young, educated Irish folks, I live abroad. However, I love my country; I adore how far we have progressed socially in a short space of time in many facets of society. I love my countrymen and women; my Irish brothers and sisters who chose to stay in the country, resisting the urge of better weather, a cheaper cost of living and job opportunities. I love you for staying put and for coming out to vote – a staggering 67% in favour of repealing the Eight Amendment.
I think back to when I was a student of Civil Law in University, optimistic that change would come; but cynical as to its pace. As the old Guinness advertisement states –
“Good things come to those who wait."
We didn't have to wait too much longer, but yet it wasn't a minute too soon.
It muddles my brain to consider that we have been so entrenched in the swamp of Roman Catholic views for so long. While we are now considered progressive, I had a hard time explaining to my continental European friends the reasons why although Ireland had just become the first country in the world to vote yes for same-sex marriage in 2015… we were still sending approximately 12 women a day to the U.K. to seek advice and treatment relating to the termination of pregnancies. Cognitive dissonance was the general reaction – and it was completely understandable.
I was living in Ireland when the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum vote occurred. I cast mine, knowing that this was a sure thing. 62% voted for love in the end. It was a moment of unification and pride – a collective sense of accomplishment at how far we had come in terms of tolerance. In 1993 following a fourteen-year campaign, Senator David Norris managed to single-handedly drag Ireland into the late 20th century via the decriminalisation of same-sexual activity. Norris was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in Ireland, and by 1987 he was a Senator.
Firstly, Norris took the Attorney General to Ireland’s High Court over the criminalisation of same-sex acts. The law he sought to repeal was passed under British rule and was therefore in his view, repugnant to the very core of Ireland as its own, independent state. He was turned away. Undeterred, he appealed to the Supreme Court, but was narrowly defeated by a margin of 3-2. Steely-eyed and determined, Senator Norris took the issue to the European Court of Human Rights, which stated that the criminalisation of same-sex acts was in direct contradiction with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Although Ireland was privy to this, the law was not repealed until 1993.
Following the repeal of the law, Senator Norris broadened the scope of his mission, stating:
“I did start out on that campaign [for homosexual law reform] but I found very quickly that the mechanism of discrimination was exactly the same against women, against ethnic minorities, against the handicapped, so I broadened out and this now is how I see things, very much so.”
These mechanisms of discrimination are evident in societies all across the world. These mechanisms may manifest themselves in differing ways – but the result remains the same.
The Irish state has been heavily influenced of the Catholic Church for so long that these issues weren’t even up for debate. The Church had a part to play in building our country… but played an much larger part in marginalising, abusing and exerting aggressive influence on society. This waning of the Church’s influence came in small drips and drabs – contraceptives were illegal in Ireland up until 1980 – but the The Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act, 1985 softened this stance by permitting the sale of condoms and spermicides to be to people over 18 without the need to present a prescription. Sale, however, was limited to certain areas named in the act itself. My own parents moved abroad to seek opportunity in England during this time. I often wonder if they hadn’t, if I would now be sitting here in the midst of a middle-age crisis. Instead I’ve found peace and embraced my quarter-life crisis.
In 1995 – the Irish were granted the power to divorce.
This was kept under tight regulation and demanded the satisfaction of a high threshold. The Church saw its grip on society begin to wane. My parents’ generation who were constantly reminded that there was a place in hell reserved for all those who deviated from the narrow moral teachings of a powerful religious institution – weren’t quite sure what to make of this.
Following many reports and publications of the abuses and cruelty of the Church at home and abroad, people began to turn away from this institution of control. The mass-organised fuss about death that strangely didn’t seem concerned with human life became too much to process for many people. This, coupled with the Pope refusing to acknowledge the quiet killing of 800 babies in a ‘workhouse’ in Tuam, Co. Galway, in the early to mid-1900s in addition to the rampant sexual abuse of children that was covered up by the Church, only swayed public opinion further.
So now I find myself circling back to the present day, without delving into the more gruesome details of this long-standing abortion debate. With each passing year, it becomes more beautiful to see the influence of the Church wane. The plethora of weighty reasons why Church and State should remain separate are evident. Personal belief is a most blessed and beautiful response to the harshness and unpredictability of this life. I find it far removed from the institutions of power which run the show.
For all the women who felt as if their country didn’t care for them, sat on EasyJet flights with bitten nails, frayed nerves and an overwhelming sense of disillusionment – I hope that you find some solace in this news. 2018 marked the 100-year anniversary of Irish women being given the right to vote. Now, you have the freedom to choose.