A few weeks ago, I was at a family gathering and someone brought up the topic of abortion. A living room full of women, ranging from early twenties to late sixties, proceeded to drunkenly debate the issue into the wee hours of the morning. One of those women, who we’ll call “Jemima”, is a former NHS doctor. She informed us that, throughout her career, she had routinely refused to sign forms for women seeking abortion because she did not approve of their reasons for wanting one. She spoke with particular scorn about a woman she had refused on the grounds that she was wealthy and married, with two children already, and so could surely provide a loving and stable home for a potential third child? The idea that there were almost certainly considerations of which Jemima was not aware – or the novel concept that her patient simply did not want to be pregnant and her reasons are her own – didn’t enter the equation. Jemima insisted that, as a Catholic, she should not have to sign off on a procedure that goes against her beliefs.
I was appalled that it is (apparently) legal for medical professionals to engage in this sort of gatekeeping, especially in a country with relatively liberal abortion laws. And perhaps that’s naïve of me, but given what I know of the UK, I assume (I hope) that woman went on to find a GP who doesn’t refuse treatment on religious grounds and was able to get an abortion, having only been mildly inconvenienced by Jemima and her anti-choice views.
I’m writing this open letter in response to your article, published in the Irish Times on 8th March 2017, entitled Why The Repeal The Eighth March Will Backfire. I thought this was an odd article to feature on International Women’s Day, especially considering the day’s events were indisputably dominated by the Repeal Movement across the country, but of course, you are not responsible for the Times’ editorial choices.
In your article, you admonish Repealers for failing to listen to dissenting voices and to engage with women like you, women “in the middle” who do not see abortion as a clear-cut issue. You say that this is the reason a referendum would fail. However, having engaged with your words to the best of my ability, it seems that – even though you place more value on life in the womb than I do – we both believe that the Eighth Amendment is a draconian and inhumane piece of legislation that needs to be repealed. You identify as pro-life, but you also say:
“I do not judge anyone who has ever come to the decision that an abortion is the best choice for them at a given time. That is their own business, borne out of their own individual circumstance.”
As a commenter points out, this sentiment is the essence of pro-choice.
I am writing to you as a private citizen of the Republic of Ireland to express my strong support for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of our country’s Constitution.
Like every other woman of child-bearing age in our country, I have never been afforded the opportunity to vote on my reproductive rights. The Eighth Amendment was signed into law five years before I was born. I am now twenty-eight years old. I have recently moved back to Ireland with the intention to settle here permanently, after five years of living and working abroad – the inevitable consequence of graduating at the height of a recession. Despite all its flaws and faults, I love my country and I believe in our ability to constantly better ourselves as a nation. If I ever decide to raise a family, I want to do it on Irish soil.
However, while living abroad as an Irish citizen, our country’s blanket ban on abortion has been a source of shame for me. I spent two years working in a United Nations organisation in Geneva, Switzerland. I was there in 2014, when the UN Human Rights Committee conducted its fourth periodic review of Ireland. A committee of eighteen human rights experts formally called for Ireland to hold a referendum on abortion.
Working within the UN system, many of my colleagues became aware of the findings of the Committee’s report as a matter of course. Several dropped by my desk to ask me to clarify the criticism: surely Ireland didn’t have a blanket ban on abortion? Even in cases of rape? What about fatal foetal abnormality? I was forced to explain, many times in the course of one week: “Yes, my country would force a rape victim to carry a resulting pregnancy to term. Yes, my country would force a woman to carry a dying foetus to term, even if her health is at risk. Yes, abortion is still a criminal offence in Ireland.”
Many of my colleagues came from countries plagued with their own state-mandated human rights abuses. They were all uniformly shocked that Ireland, a so-called “developed” country was still, in 2014, dragging its collective feet on such a basic issue of human rights.
That was 2014. It is now 2016 and nothing has changed. I am intimately familiar with the varied and valid criticisms that can and should be levelled at the United Nations, but the fact is that Ireland remains a member of this organisation by choice. It is both arrogant and ludicrous to claim membership in a group while disregarding its most basic tenets.
I also want to strongly affirm my belief that abortion access should not be restricted to cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality, and that whatever legislation replaces the Eighth Amendment should reflect this. I do not believe a woman’s right to access abortion should be offset by how much she has suffered. Like many women in my generation, I am single, sexually active, and unsure if I ever want children. I do not believe that consensual sex is the same thing as consenting to becoming pregnant, nor do I believe that childbirth should be treated as a sort of fitting punishment for women who openly enjoy sex. This insidious line of thinking is preserved and perpetuated by the Catholic Church, an institution with an utterly dismal track record of abusing the women and children unfortunate enough to fall into its care.
I do not believe abortion is murder. Nor do I believe that the majority of self-identified “pro-life” advocates believe that abortion is murder, as most, when pushed, will not agree that 200,000 Irish women should currently be serving life sentences in prison for this crime.
I believe that women are the experts on their own lives and their own bodies. I believe that the decision to end or to continue with a pregnancy belongs to no one except the pregnant person.
Above all, I believe that in a country founded on the principle of fair representation of the interests of all its citizens, I should have the opportunity to express my views by voting in a national referendum. I believe that democratic process on this issue is long overdue. It was overdue two years ago when I had to explain, shame-faced, to colleagues from all over the world, that pregnant people in my country do not have the right to basic bodily autonomy.
I sincerely hope I never have to feel that kind of shame again.
Thank you all for your time and your consideration.
Of course, if you live in Ireland, you don’t need a peer-reviewed study to tell you this. Our country is a live illustration of the trend. Every year, at least 3,500 Irish women (that’s an average of nine women per day) spend time, energy and money travelling to the UK to obtain a safe, legal abortion. Those who are unable to travel continue to turn to illegal “abortion pills” or even more drastic measures to end unwanted pregnancy – we’re not sure about their numbers, but it’s safe to assume they are not negligible.
For those of you who call yourselves “pro-life”, your one and only campaign point seems to be preserving our Constitution’s 8thAmendment at all costs. I’m sorry to inform you that your time and effort is sadly misplaced. Ireland is not and has never been “abortion-free”. Our blanket ban on abortion does little, if anything, to deter women from ending unwanted pregnancy. All the evidence suggests that repealing our 8th Amendment and replacing it with clear and humane legislation on reproductive rights will not increase abortion rates among Irish women.*
In other news, here’s a small sample of the some of the Internet I have been enjoying this week!
Dissent Unheard Of – Ashe Dryden unpacks some of the techniques typically used to silence people who speak up to promote and protect diversity. Focused on the tech sector, but applicable pretty much anywhere.
Why we should give free money to everyone – Turns out the best way to spend money on the poor might be to give money to the poor. Unconvinced? Read this great article by Rutger Bregman of Decorrespondent about consistent success of basic income experiments.
My Breakup with Exercise – This personal account from Leah of Talkin’ Reckless is a really good reminder that everything in moderation – including exercise – is the best way to live a sustainable healthy and happy life.
We’re not here for your inspiration – A reminder from Stella Young that disabled people don’t exist to put your problems in perspective, nor to illustrate your cloying motivational posters. Most of them are just trying to get through the day, just like their able-bodied counterparts, and no matter what Scott Hamilton says, they don’t owe you a good attitude.
These Female “Privileges” Suck – It’s no secret that I’m a fan of a good takedown, and this one from Sophieologie is a particularly satisfying annihilation of Thought Catalog’s latest puerile listicle. Sidenote: does anyone else feel sad that the once-useful concept of privilege is now deployed solely for the purpose of mudslinging, by people who have no idea what it actually means?
Your Map is Racist – Q. When is a map racist? A. When Greenland is as big as Africa and the equator has mysteriously shifted downwards so we can see more of Europe.
On Colbert and White Racial Satire: We Don’t Need It – In the wake of the #CancelColbert tweetstorm, Mia McKenzie cuts through the bullshit (as usual) and asks: what exactly white racial satire is doing for people of colour, and is it really more helpful than harmful?
RELAXING: AN INTENSIVE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE – “You probably think of relaxation as an unattainable dream, if not just a myth altogether. Adhere to this guide with precision and get ready to experience the most rigorous relaxation of your life!”
“The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion” – A fascinating series of accounts from physicians and counselors who have provided abortions to anti-choice women; in some cases, women who turned up to picket the clinic the day after the procedure.
Hi everyone! The fields of the link farm have lain fallow for a while, but they shall be all the more fertile for it and a new crop of feminism shall grow strong and abundant in the furrows of this newly-ploughed metaphor.
That is to say, the draft email where I keep interesting links (Iol, what are bookmarks) has become nothing short of unwieldy, so here’s a bumper crop of stuff I read recently (or not so recently) that I found thought-provoking. All of it is articles. In no particular order:
The Twitching of Democracy Could Twitch Plays Pokémon hold the answer to reinvigorating our broken systems of democracy? I have no idea, but fortunately my friend Tadhg decided to grapple with that very question in his latest blog post.
Rage Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum Women in general, and feminists in particular, are often accused of overreacting or being excessively angry in response to relatively innocuous things. Kameron Hurley does a great job of explaining that a) seemingly isolated incidents are often “blown out of proportion” precisely because they are not isolated incidents and b) anger is actually a necessary tool for changing the status quo.
Should “potential fathers” have any say in abortion? A thorny issue, but this is why I love reading Aoife O’Riordan on reproductive rights; she brings a level on incisiveness and clarity that I would never arrive at on my own and her conclusions always center the needs of the pregnant person above all else. And as a fellow native of a country where abortion is illegal except in the most extenuating of circumstances, her insight is valuable to me on a personal and political level.
Bi-Erasure and The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank may not have identified as bisexual, but the fact that her diary was originally scrubbed of homoerotic material prior to publishing is symptomatic of a society that is still profoundly uncomfortable with fluid sexuality. Solomon Wong illustrates how this relates to modern bi-erasure and why young bi people need more mainstream narratives that acknowledge their existence.
Bros before Rogues Nicholas DiSabatino asks if the X-Men franchise – despite reams of excellent source material – is getting steadily worse at portraying women as well-rounded characters… or indeed, portraying them at all. (Hint: Yes.)
Why Marketers Fear The Female GeekDisruptive innovation is one of my favourite marketing concepts. It basically means ripping up the rule book and throwing all the data out the window in order to capture (or recapture) a brand new market through bold and original strategies. And this, argues Anjin Anhut, is exactly what videogame companies need to do if they want access to the wallets of the fifty percent of the population they’ve been systematically alienating for the past few decades.
The Night I Kissed A Rapist In this simple personal account, Jan DeVry explores her firsthand experience of discovering that a rapist can be a well-liked, charismatic man with whom you have strong chemistry.
Seeming Female: Gender in Digital Space So at this point we all know that Fake Geek Girl is largely a myth, the fever dream of an adult nerd with a subconscious desire to punish all women for that one time a hot girl ignored him at summer camp. But the always excellent Foz Meadows posits an interesting theory: what if she does exist? What if she exists and what if she is a literal invention of male gamers? “What if the respective myths of the Fake Geek Girl and Fake Gamer Girl are actively being perpetuated, not through the whore-user predations of evil ladies, but because a cynical, sexist subset of male geeks are using stereotypical, strawman portrayals of women to manipulate their peers?” It sounds far-fetched, but the numbers add up and the performance of gender in digital spaces is a strange and elusive beast.
Link farm! Hello! Here are some the best things I have read on the Internet in recent weeks. But first, above, one of the best things about Beyoncé dropping a fourteen track visual concept album earlier this week (no biggie) is that this amazing TED Talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is getting some much deserved extra spotlight, since Bey sampled a large section of her speech in the track “***Flawless”.
The Feminist Selfie(article) “Selfie” is the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year 2013, but is the rise of prolific self-portraiture – aided by webcams and smartphones – a feminist statement or tasteless narcissism? Can it be both? ChaosIntended makes an excellent case for the selfie as a feminist reclamation of the way women perceive and portray themselves.
What The Fluck(multimedia essay) This is a long and fascinating piece. It starts off talking about Tamara Mellon, creator of Jimmy Choo, but then expands to encompass some huge ideas… media, celebrity, public vs. private lives, corruption, politics and ultimately a call for new forms of journalism that can actually penetrate the giant financial power structures that run our world today.
My Abortion(article, content note for graphic descriptions of abortion) Brilliant journalism from Meaghan Winter at NY Magazine, reporting twenty-six abortion stories from twenty-six different women across the United States. There is no room for politics, but there is a full gamut of emotions – trauma, relief, nonchalance, fear, sadness, regret, gratitude – and some beautiful, heartbreaking moments that remind you that every single woman who has had an abortion is full and complete human being with a whole life of past choices and future prospects weighing on her decision.
I still don’t want to see Zack Snyder’s take on Wonder Woman(article) Charlie Jane Anders brilliantly articulates her (and my own) anxieties about Zack Snyder introducing Wonder Woman to the big screen and why he is not the director to catapult the world’s most iconic female superhero into the 21st century. Also, to save you reading the comments, they are full of “Wonder Woman will never work in movies because her origin is so messy and her costume is dated!” You know, as though screenwriters and directors have no creative license or agency to work around those things.
Loving your body and ending obesity (article) One of my favourite things about Emily Heist Moss is her ability and determination to find middle-ground on issues that have become so polarized that communication has all but broken down. In this article, she highlights that creating space for fat women to love themselves and promoting healthier lifestyles on a broad societal level are not opposing, or even mutually exclusive goals. And it’s not just that we can do both, it’s that we must do both if we ever want to see real change.
No Girls Allowed (visual essay) A comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing history of the rise of videogames that specifically charts the role of marketing in the evolution of the medium from family-friendly group entertainment to unrepentant boys’ club. Essential reading for anyone who still thinks companies “just make what sells!” Hint: they don’t, and marketing department don’t tailor their output to the whims of customers, but rather work hard and smart to create and control consumer demand.
Your Ability to Can Even: A Defense of Internet Linguistics (article) I love language! I love the Internet! I love The Toast! I love that online spaces are generating a whole spectrum of playful new ways to express ourselves through subversive grammar, memes, GIFs and typographic peculiarities. This article, I mean I just can’t even askkewefs abtklwvrqheqhljqv wow so linguistics
Feminists are not responsible for educating men (article) I have linked to this before across my various social meedjahs, but since I’ve had this conversations several times, drunkenly, in meatspace, in recent weeks, it bears posting again here. Go forth, well-intentioned men of the world, and read. And then restrain yourself from cornering me at the Christmas party to bombard me with enlightened questions along the lines of “Why don’t women just get over it?”*
*This is an actual thing that an adult man said to me during a “rational” discussion about feminism.