Wednesday, 10 August 2016

REPEAL: Wearing your politics and refusing to be silenced

Just over two weeks ago the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar were forced to remove a mural by famous Irish street artist Maser from their facade. The mural consisted of a simple red heart surrounded in a white border and with bubble text inside that red "Repeal the 8th" and the arts centre were told that this image infringed upon county council planning permission. When it was removed, it had already been up for several weeks and, presumably, was only taken down after complaints were made about it.

For the majority of my readership (now largely outside Ireland), you may be a little confused as to what "the 8th" is and what was so offensive about the message that it required removal. The "8th" is the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1983, an act that was effected after a referendum was held in 1983 which asked Irish people to vote on the State’s abortion laws. It states that "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right." Basically, it means that mothers in Ireland do not have access to abortions or terminations unless their life is directly endangered by a pregnancy.

Since the amendment was brought in, there have been those that opposed it. In the nineties, there was the infamous "X Case" wherein an unnamed Irish teenager fell pregnant after being raped and was planning to seek an abortion in England. This opened up a dialogue about the psychological ramifications of women being forced to carry to term in such circumstances. Invariably, discussions about the problematic nature of the 8th amendment continuously resurface sparking much debate from the pro-life and pro-choice camps.

Yet, the big problem is that the issue seizes the public imagination momentarily before returning to that hush-hush situation, that we don't really talk about or face up to, once the media attention dies down once more. In the meantime, a purported average of nine people a day leave Ireland and seek abortions in the UK. This is also likely to actually be a smaller number than the reality as people do not want to reveal their actions and whereabouts in this situation for fear of social and legal ramifications.

Basically, Ireland is ignoring and exporting a serious problem and has even been condemned by the UN for this.

The reality is, as I see it, that abortions have been sought out for one reason or another since the beginning of time and though the idea of abortions make some uncomfortable, that does not change the fact that they are simply going to happen. Leaving the country for an abortion is a costly, time-consuming and emotionally draining experience and as awful as it is, it is also a luxury that some cannot afford. Such individuals may seek out riskier methods that endanger themselves. Is it not preferable, then, in the face of reality, that they be able to procure an abortion in a nearby and safe setting from which they can immediately return home to comforts and support? Abortion is not something people do on a whim, it is often a difficult choice or, in cases where it is not, it is still and unpleasant and upsetting experience, We should support these people not exile them and pretend that it is not happening, for our own comfort.

Worse still, is the fact that there are plenty of people who do not want to have abortions but find themselves in very unfortunate situations where the pregnancy is not feasible and they are forced to carry to term. Unless the mother's life is deemed to be directly in danger, abortions are not available in Ireland and this has lead to inaction and tragedy, such as in the infamous case of Savita Halappanavar. Both the utter sorrow of  being forced to carry a foetus that will not survive to be the child they want and the danger that must be endured in especially difficult and threatening pregnancies, make no sense whatsoever. A former neighbour of mine was forced to give birth to two children that suffered from the same genetic condition and which she knew early on would not survive. The second time it happened she met my mother on the street and told her and they both wailed in the middle of the road. How can anyone justify that kind of unnecessary pain?

We are the generation of Irish people that chose, for ourselves, to legalise gay marriage. We are a society that is increasingly progressive and varied. It is a new world and I would wager that most Irish people believe men and women to be equal but we are not. Not in many ways but, particularly, in the eyes of the law. Some of us (not all may identify as women but those who can give birth) are equated with a foetus and our lives and choices and feelings do not matter in this country.

Others have been campaigning for this to be changed since before I, or any of my peers, were born but we haven't had a say in the matter. It is time to take the conversation beyond the realm of sympathizers and like-minded friends and to vote once more. It is our right as citizens to have a say in the laws of our country and this law - made when being gay had yet to be decriminalised, divorce had yet to be legalised and over a decade before I was born - does not necessarily reflect the wishes of the Irish population or life in Ireland today.

The pro-life side want to shut us up. Many men around the world want to deny a right that they cannot fathom, that they will never understand or experience for themselves. They will bombard us with ridicule, misinformation, insensitive handling of a very delicate issue and grotesque and graphic materials promoting their side of the argument but when our side of the argument puts up a pretty but very visual reminder to talk about this hidden issue, it is removed. We are effectively shushed.

"What does any of this have to do with a fashion blog?" you might be wondering. It may seem a little off-brand but it is not. My response to being told to shut up in this situation is to rebel. We can't paint a wall so why not brand our opinion across our chest. Be walking billboards. Don't let the issue be buried. Wear your politics.

Repeal Project is a project undertaken by Anna Cosgrave to bring the repeal the 8th movement to a wider audience, to visualise a hidden problem and raise money for the Abortion Rights Campaign in Ireland. At the moment, they sell sweatshirts with the word "repeal" boldly and clearly emblazoned across the chest; white text over a black garment, The result is striking and immediately distinguishable and, chances are, if you have walked around Dublin or other places in Ireland recently, you will have seen one.

I wear mine proudly but I will not say that I wear it easily. Wearing the garment lends a certain sense of camaraderie, you nod at others doing the same and become emboldened and joyous as the numbers that you spot each day rise. I've had a woman cycling past me with her two kids say "I love your jumper" and begin to explain to the two little boys why as I walked on and it made me feel incredibly good. But I've also walked, in that same jumper, past torn up and angrily defaced pro-choice posters and stickers and felt uncomfortable as older people glared at me. When we were all campaigning for marriage equality, I wore my badges and bags proudly but I'm made feel uncomfortable doing the same with my repeal sweatshirt in this climate of shutting down and shutting up.

But I won't stop wearing it. I am angry. I am annoyed. I didn't get my say about my own body. My generation hasn't had their say. I believe in, and am proud of, Ireland. I've seen that we can be better, that we can learn and grow and I believe we can do it again.

Wear your politics across your chest. Don't let them silence us. Let's have another referendum and not accept politicians too worried about their own behinds to give it to us.



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