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Right to Abortion -- can the movement match the opposition?

category national | rights, freedoms and repression | feature author Monday February 18, 2013 11:06author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacity Report this post to the editors

The anti-abortion movement is well funded and militant -- the right to abortion movement will need to match them in militancy

featured image
Foreign media coverage of the reaction here

The anti-abortion movement was not cowed by the outcry over Savita's tragic death nor by the huge popular response marching in November. The Government plans legislation only to allow abortion when the woman's life is danger and the criteria for establishing that are not yet known. All opinion polls on the subject show a huge majority in favour of liberalisation of the laws -- a majority which is also rising over the years. The abortion rights movement has been publicly quiet for some time now while the opposition is loud and in public view. Can the movement for abortion rights summon the necessary militancy to achieve its objectives?

The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, dying in an Irish hospital during a miscarriage after being refused an abortion, shocked the nation. It might have been thought that the outcry then, followed by the protest demonstration of at least 20,000 in November in Dublin, along with other protests in Ireland and abroad, would have put the anti-abortion movement on the back foot. On the contrary, they have been on the offensive since.

Almost immediately afterwards, a religious orders woman was photographed outside the Bank of Ireland building in central Dublin with a placard saying: “Must millions of unborn children be sacrificed to Satan for the death of one woman?” Of course she represents the extreme edge of the anti-abortion movement and Catholic church dogma does not say – nor ever did – that aborted foetuses go to “Satan”. But she does represent the militancy of the anti-abortion movement.

On January 19th this year, the well-funded anti-abortion movement mobilised up to 25,000, according to the Gardaí, to attend a rally in Dublin. The regular anti-abortion propaganda stalls continue outside the GPO in Dublin and in fact seem to be stepping up their level of activity, with a giant placard across the road outside Cleary’s and leafletters there too, while passers-by are approached by young women seeking signatures for an anti-choice petition.

On the other hand, apart from some well-attended conferences in the wake of Savita’s death and the setting up of some working groups, one hears little publicly from the pro-choice movement at the moment and their picket of the anti-abortion rally drew approximately 200. Apparently the activists, in the middle of work to set up the nationwide organisation Abortion Rights Campaign, were in two minds as to whether to picket it and only decided at the last minute to do so.

Recent opinion polls show that a spread of between 60% and 85% within the Irish state favour liberalising the abortion laws including, as a minimum, the right to abortion when the mother’s life is in danger ( Surely the time is now to capitalise on such poll results and before the memory of Savita’s tragic death fades too much? After all the X case controversy was in 1992 and what progress has been made since?

The most recent poll, that of the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI, published findings this week which indicate an even more favourable climate for the right to abortion. Those who are opposed to it under any circumstances are at 12%, a drop of 6% from a similar poll in 1997. But the numbers of those in favour of abortion when the woman’s life is in danger have more than doubled to 84%. And those who favour abortion if the woman’s health is at risk have shot up from 14% in 1997 to 70% now. In addition, 79% were in favour of abortion when the foetus would not be capable of survival outside the womb and 78% in cases of rape or incest. Also of interest was the number who thought it should be permitted when the woman judged it to be in her own interest 37% overall (40% of women and 34% of men). (

Despite the apparently favourable climate among the general population, the Government has declared plans only to bring legislation to allow abortion when the woman’s life is in danger and we have not been told what criteria will be used for that determination.

Campaigning for the right to choose abortion would need to be imaginative and might well need to include acts of civil disobedience in order to shake the main political parties out of their complacency – or at least inertia. Apparently the Abortion Rights Campaign intends to seek funding to help maintain itself and one can’t help wondering whether the inevitable strings that come attached to funding might not restrain the campaign from necessary confrontations.

It would seem worthwhile also to bring the pro-choice battle to the Irish Republican movement, where the divisions are such that the issue is usually avoided. Some of the organisations have a policy of right to abortion where the life of the mother is endangered while others have steered away from the debate. Bringing the issue to the various organisations within the movement would strengthen the hands of those within who are in favour of liberalisation of the laws and would bring the pro-choice movement into engagement with a radical and often revolutionary constituency with which it usually fails to engage. In addition, the Republican movement traditionally draws strong support from the working class and that was one of the social groups in which the recent poll found lower support. One might argue that working class women have even greater need of access to abortion than their economically better-off sisters, with less easy access to abortion abroad and less access to childcare facilities also.

The Abortion Rights Campaign will fight for what is arguably at least as fundamental a gender equality right as was the vote for women, the right to control their own reproduction, and along the way win any improvements it can, such as the right to abortion when the woman’s life is in danger. That is very purpose of the internal organisational work in which its activists are currently engaged. Their ultimate purpose is to repeal the 8th Amendment to an Bunreacht, the Constitution of the Irish state, as well as to provide access to “free, safe and legal abortion” for all in Ireland. ( )

Meanwhile, it seems dangerous to leave the field of battle for ‘hearts and minds’ on the street to the anti-abortion movement. Surely the pro-choice movement can run its own information stalls in central Dublin and elsewhere, collect its own signatures and perhaps even picket the anti-abortionists? The anti-choice people have marched out to do battle in a sustained campaign against any right to abortion at all. Hopefully the pro-choice movement will meet them with at least the same militancy and determination.

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author by Baby Brainspublication date Fri Feb 15, 2013 03:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The surveys you cite weak on the specifics of the questions posed to participants, like the self-declared suicide plea. Everyone, not just the majority, is in favour of a woman's life being protected where necessary but very few are in favour of a woman claiming she is suicidal to obtain an abortion for reasons of personal choice. A poll carried out with a clear question on the suicide issue would get a more pertinent answer. It is afterall the suicide issue that is at issue. In short the wooliness of the polls you cite make them useless at best. It's all in how you pose the question you know.

author by Lewispublication date Sat Feb 23, 2013 20:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It might not be big enough to legalize the abortion in this country, but yes, the movement for the legalization of abortion (i find the words "pro-life" and "pro-choice" rather silly so I will avoid using them) already matched the very well funded organizations backed by the church, wealthy individuals and the 2 biggest parties of this country.
The rally after Savita death, with not even a tenth of the resources, had around the same size, (the media can downplay as much as they want, it's undeniable that at least 25k were there) with no counter demonstration, just a handful of OAPs shouting "babykillers" to the people marching. The hugely staged "pro-life" march had free buses from outside Dublin, younger and better looking people were put in the front by the organizers, in order to give a more "diverse" look than the reality that 90% were the average bigot. Only "official" placards given in a tent were allowed. Was a professional event, with hired staff, looking more like a huge match or festival. Unlike the earlier march, there was a counter demonstration with (Irish media numbers, then again, very likely to be downplayed).
40% of women, despite all the propaganda against and the hundreds of years of catholic culture in this country is, yes, a huge number. It's a matter of fact. One or two generations ago, homossexualism and divorce were illegal in this country. You can't control the modernization and awereness of the society. I don't have the age crossbreaks of the poll mentioned, but you can see the huge difference of thinking among the young people.

But I agree that more action is needed. We can't wait for the women rights to come to this country by inertia. I don't know though, what more can be done with the money and resources we have. Everything is wrong in this country currently, the society is broken, people are jobless, crime in the rise. People are starting to get jaded. We have protests for different reasons in front of the Dail week in, week out. I don't know what more can be done. If the current level of activity helped, we would have already brought down the government. Irish people need to do more. But I can't think of a solution myself.

author by Bobbypublication date Sun Feb 24, 2013 09:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think only a male would really say this. Some women find it offensive when males give their opinion beyond being supportive of her/their ability to make a decision about her/their body.

I am pro-choice because I have a penis and abortion will never affect me. What I do is campaign when my female comrades invite me to do so, but I still wouldn't go beyond being pro-choice. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a male who told me he was a feminist. It made me entirely uncomfortable that a heterosexual male thought he understood femininity/female reproduction/sexual repression/patriarchy/misogyny etc, these issues are reserved for women/females. In my overall experiences men are quite insensitive to lots of issues that affect women (sometimes even disregarding a womans opinion on a female issue!), and men also spend quite a bit of time actively speaking over/not listening to women, thinking they understand issues better because they have a different biological make-up. Simply put,I don't think you should play with words so lightly. I don't think there is anything even close to silly about being careful about the words people choose to use, especially when it comes to men talking about issues they will never, and can never fully understand due to complete and utter lack of real-life experience.

I am hardly even pro-choice anyway, I'm pro-it's-not-a-males-issue.

*Fuck patriarchy, fuck capitalism...

author by Rational Ecologist.publication date Mon Feb 25, 2013 12:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

To say that men are not entitled to an opinion on abortion is nonsense; of course they are. If your wife/girlfriend/partner wants to have an abortion, then of course that affects you and you are entitled to an opinion. As regards the male saying he is a feminist, fair play to him. Any man brave enough to express his solidarity with women in such a manner is to be applauded not castigated. The division between men and women is an artificial one, for the most part.

author by Bobbypublication date Wed Feb 27, 2013 13:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yep, only a man could possibly say all of this. Amazing. If something is happening inside a womans body, a male, such as myself, has absolutely no say over what happens next. A male should have no say - whatsoever - in what happens inside a womans body. I get these ideas from my feminists comrades. Your opinion means nothing unless it becomes pressure. Fine, you could say 'I think it's a bad idea'. Anything else is typical patriarchal nonsense.

And with regards to men calling themselves feminist, it's like white Americans calling themselves black nationalists, it makes no sense at all. If a man become sensitive enough (and starts listening to his female comrade) he will discover that active feminists strongly disagree with males using that term to describe themselves.

And this. ;The division between men and women is an artificial one, for the most part', talk to rape victims. This line if offensive and insensitive.

Start listening to women (and try not to interrupt them)...

author by Rational Ecologist.publication date Wed Feb 27, 2013 14:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think you need to have a chat with your feminist comrades about listening and respect. I have numerous feminist friends and colleagues who would totally and utterly disagree with your "feminist comrades", whatever that means.
Everyone has a right to an opinion-this isn't Soviet Russia comrade.
Expressing an opinion is not the same as imposing your view on another person and expect them to comply. Of course, one has to be circumspect in regards to someone who is vulnerable, and of course at the end of the day, it is a woman's decision; however, in the real world, things are not so simple and are far more nuanced.
I am a male; does that mean I am patriarchal and can never absolve myself of that original sin, metaphorically speaking. Patriarchy is a system that abhors me. I have a mother, a sister, a wife, 5 nieces, many female friends and colleagues. I describe myself as a feminist, or a least pro-feminist and make no apologies for it.
Solidarity is the key! Robbing people of their right to an opinion-especially if you disagree with it-is dictatorship and patriarchal. Check out Paolo Freire: Pedagogy of The oppressed.

author by fredpublication date Thu Feb 28, 2013 21:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Bobby, Ecologist, you are clearly both supportive women's rights. Please stop the divisive bunfight and get back to helping to challenge the real enemies of women's rights in our society. :-)

author by Bobbypublication date Thu Feb 28, 2013 23:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I wanted to stop reading after the first word, 'nonsense'. I guess I've been listening to men all my life telling me women are 'talking nonsense when it comes to any issue be it small and silly, or large and damaging. I don't think you should apologies for calling yourself pro-feminist, I do too. As for the little jives about ''feminist comrades'' and mentioning Soviet Russia, I think it's childish and I didn't really want to respond to it (I see you say 'whatever that means' when referring to the word comrade, do you really not know what a comrade is? It happens through working together and building mutual trust. I would like to point out that I gathered my ideas through personal experiences, and more importantly, through meeting feminist activists wherever I go, and I engage with them in a capacity they expect/request. I'm upset that a male, self-defining pro-feminist in Ireland decided to use 'Nonsense' as their headline word. By the way, put any thought into the comparison of a white American radical calling themselves black nationalist? If a black activist asked a white activists not to use certain terms, I don't think it's 'robbing' your right to an opinion, as you so grimly suggested I am doing.

On that note, the paragraph about robbing your opinion, I find it baffling. Are you trying to say I am robbing your opinion, or are you just reminding me? The whole point of this conversation - from my perspective - is that men are so utterly and disgustingly insensitive to women, and it took me a decade to realise my own prejudices, and I want other men to respond to these ideas, without getting defensive and implying I am a Stalinist. I am anti-authoritarian, hence my pro-woman's right stance. I'm defending feminist ideas - which I gathered from very active feminists/feminist groups in Ireland and beyond, and I will certainly not make an apology about it.

Lastly, I take this issue very serious (women's rights and all that it entails), and I don't appreciate the way you're trying to drag the tone down.

author by Rational Ecologist.publication date Fri Mar 01, 2013 09:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I didn't intend to drag the tone down and I do concede some of my comments were not helpful and I apologise sincerely for that. I think we have a lot more in common than I gave credit for.
Thanks for that clear reply and I don't disagree with your points.
I remain 100% committed to equality and justice.
In Solidarity.

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacitypublication date Fri Mar 01, 2013 17:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I wrote my article as a contribution towards practical action and I find it sad that so little of the comments contributed any further in that direction. Let's hope the 'silent' readers are getting on with the action.

author by MandyDandypublication date Tue Mar 05, 2013 05:09author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"I am pro-choice because I have a penis and abortion will never affect me." - Bobby

If you are gay, i.e. not having sex with women then you can safely make that assertion but for hetro males sex always carries some risk of pregnancy. And yes, that baby is in the woman's womb but it's not her exclusive property. It's their baby, plural. Father's have rights too. These are the rights that go along with the responsibilities that will fall on him should she chooses to keep the baby and legally bind him to support it for 18+ years. It's hard to believe a man can hold the views you do. You sound more like a young woman that has been indoctrinated with factoids and other misandrist misrepresentations on a women's studies course. Your warcry of "fcuk the Patriarchy....". Really? You believe there is an invisible 'Patriarchy' oppressing women? And you are a man? A man who lives in the sea of misandrist hate we call society? A society where women claim privilidge and right's in every area, even those to which they have not earned admission, solely in the name of 'equality' and by using the threat of hysterical outbursts by groups of young women who have been indoctrinated in hate and set with fear and loathing of men in the afore mentioned women's studies and gender studies courses.

author by Rational Ecologist.publication date Tue Mar 05, 2013 09:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I just want to ask MandyDandy to explain the following sentence: "A society where women claim privilidge and right's in every area, even those to which they have not earned admission". I'd really love to know what is meant by this.

author by fredpublication date Wed Mar 06, 2013 01:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As I look around me, I don't see women progressing forward much, but rather a systematic media campaign promoting the undermining and objectification of women bearing a bumper crop of fruit in the current generation.

Feminism has been set back 20 years. Just talk to some younger girls, and watch TV

People like the previous misogynist commenter "MandyDandy" have little to fear alas.

Personally I'm very sad to have to witness this apparent regression having lived through much of the progress made towards mutual respect and equality by the feminist movement. And that's coming from a Man!

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