Abortion Rights Fight – North and South 

North and South of the border there is a growing movement for a woman’s right to choose. Abortion reform is back in the mainstream media because tens of thousands of people have rallied across Ireland within the past year to demand changes in the law. 

Socialist Worker

Abortion Rights Fight – North and South 

By Becca Bor  and Adrienne Wallace

In the South, the movement for abortion rights is organising to repeal the 8th amendment in the upcoming referendum; and in the North, the discussion around liberalisation of the anti-abortion laws has coincided with political volatility and impasse in the North.

Ireland, on both sides of the border, remains one of the most reactionary and anti-woman countries in Europe. Abortion is illegal, child and family benefits are being cut, over 3,000 children are homeless in Ireland and childcare remains extremely expensive.

Across Ireland, abortion was outlawed by an 1861 Act that threatened any woman or doctor carrying out an abortion with life imprisonment.

The introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act in Britain, which permitted abortion to save a woman’s life, or if continuing with the pregnancy would leave the woman ‘a physical or mental wreck’, propelled the conservatives in Ireland to stop any attempt to liberalise abortion legislation.

In 1983 ultra-conservative Catholics like Opus Dei kick-started a campaign to introduce the 8th amendment into the Irish constitution.

A year later the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act into Northern Ireland, backed by the unholy alliance of the Catholic Nationalist SDLP and the Presbyterian Unionist UUP.

However, the power and dominance of the church has waned.

The political establishment – North and South – have stumbled from crisis to crisis with successful people power movements knocking back its austerity agenda.

A new generation of women, workers and students have mobilized to demand the right to choose, beginning with a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment, and an immediate decriminalisation of taking abortion pills.

A recent poll by Amnesty shows that in the South 60% of people believe women should have abortion on request, either outright or within gestational limits; and over 80% of people in the North think there should be some reform to abortion law.

What is clear, is that with none of the major parties supporting Repeal in the South, and none of the major parties in the North supporting pro-choice legislation, politicians are completely out of step with the population.

Partition

The conservatism of Ireland was not inevitable, but an outcome of partition and reactionary governments forming both sides of the border.

The Southern conservative capitalist state was formed by quashing a movement that sought not just national liberation, but social liberation.

Whilst, most history books portray the Irish War of Independence as solely about driving out the British, in reality, Ireland was caught up in the wave of social revolution and rebellion that swept through Europe during the First World War.

Across Ireland, over 100 soviets or workers councils were established and in 1919, Limerick was run as a soviet with workers taking over factories with the slogan, ‘We make bread, not profits’ for two weeks.

When partition became a looming prospect, James Connolly warned it would produce a “carnival of reaction both North and South, would set back the wheels of progress, would destroy the oncoming unity of the Irish Labour movement and paralyse all advanced movements whilst it endured.”

Two conservative states were created- each with its own leadership who tried to unite their own populations against their enemies on the other side of the border. Connolly explained that partition would “help the Home Rule and Orange capitalists and clerics to keep their rallying cries before the public as the political watchwords of the day. In short, it would make division more intense and confusion of ideas and parties more confounded.”

The many women who fought and organised for women’s rights, workers’ rights and national liberation were written out of history and pushed back into the home with De Valera’s constitution. This ‘carnival of reaction’ paved the way for the insidious relationship between the Irish state and the Catholic Church to prevail. Women, and in particular working-class women, were to be the worst affected.

Legislation

After independence, Catholic morality was enshrined in legislation and the Church was given control over welfare programmes thereby giving it complete power over some of the most vulnerable in society.

The legacy of rampant abuse in mother and baby homes is still being uncovered today. Schools and hospitals continue to be controlled by the Church to this day.

The fight for abortion rights North and South of the border is people’s response to the carnival of reaction.

Women and those who can get pregnant are sick and tired of the state dictating what we can do with our bodies. The hypocrisy of a state that has overseen murder, abuse and corruption is lost on no one.

The Paradise Papers expose the ways in which the 1% evade taxes, it shows that there is one set of laws for the wealthy and one for the poor.

This has always been the case for access to abortion. Wealthy women have always been able to travel and have abortions and poor women are the ones who suffer. In the South, the law allows for women to travel to have abortions, and in the North, women can have abortions on the NHS in England, Scotland and Wales.

However, on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 abortion act, the movement for abortion rights is growing.

The fight for the right to choose is also the fight for economic justice. Families need to be able to raise their children without the threat of further austerity.

The Sinn Fein/DUP government implemented Welfare cuts in the North and the Tories and the DUP continue to slash benefits and public services. The fight for the right to choose is also the fight to separate church and state, both sides of the border.

Pro-choice activists from the North joined the protests in Dublin and from the South came up to Belfast. The fight for reproductive rights has united the working class across Ireland in the struggle for economic and social equality.

Together, people power has the power to drive the reactionaries in both governments into the dustbin of history. The movement for bodily autonomy and the right to choose should inspire other movements to organise across the island.

Through people power the right to choose will be won and the movement has the potential to forge, not two rotting states, but a socialist Ireland built on equality for all.

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