OPINION: Repeal the 8th is a queer issue too
"When it comes to cultural oppression, the queer community in Ireland can relate easily and readily"
"Imagine a world, where the government has ownership of our bodies" - the line sounds dystopian, quoted from an Orwellian novel, and yet in 2018, it's a real issue at the forefront of Irish political life.
I am of course referring to the upcoming referendum in May to repeal the 8th Amendment. The 8th Amendment is, of course, the constitutional law that more generally prevents women from accessing abortions in Ireland. For context, abortion is legal in many other developed countries including the United States and the United Kingdom. It's a political issue that has created a noticeably divisive atmosphere in Irish society. I say divisive because Irish people are polarised into two groups, those who will vote "yes" to repealing the 8th Amendment, and those that will vote "no".
Ireland is conservative compared to other developed countries when it comes to women's rights to access abortions. As a comparison, the UK Parliament passed the Abortion Act in 1967, which allowed for abortion to be legally carried out within a range of specific circumstances. Similarly, in the United States, abortion was made legal in 1973 after the infamous Roe v Wade case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a legal right under the US Constitution.
Abortion in Ireland
In a less progressive movement, in 1983 Irish people were asked to vote on The Eight Amendment of the Constitution Act. This Amendment 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."
The Amendment passed by a 67% majority and was widely considered a victory for the pro-life movement. It was a major blow to activists who had campaigned and fought for abortion rights for Irish women. In an already conservative Ireland, that was largely controlled by church-influenced two state government, the passing of the 8th Amendment can retrospectively be considered a blow for the advancement of women's rights in Ireland.
In 2018, Ireland has been heralded as a melting pot for creativity and inclusion. We're the tech hub of Europe, attracting Fortune 500 Companies, with Grand Canal Dock on Dublin's southside being dubbed "Silicon Dock".
As a nation, we overcame the austerity of the 2008 economic recession, which saw many families struggling to make ends meet, with unemployment and social benefits at a record high. We bailed out the banks, but we stayed connected, strong and resilient.
More recently in 2015, we became the first nation to pass marriage equality by popular vote. This gave way to larger countries like the United States passing marriage equality later that year. Ireland was progressive, influential, and praised for its efforts for diversity and inclusion.
Despite this, we are miles behind when it comes to affording rights to women. There is a systemic, deliberate and consistent pattern of misogyny in Irish society that stems from years of female oppression under the church and, more widely, under a patriarchal society.
A pattern of female oppression
We don't have to go back too far to establish a pattern of female oppression in Ireland. From the 1930s to the 1970s, women were not allowed to work if they were married. Socially, this was oppressive as it denied women access to the workplace. Morally, this was oppressive as it reduced a woman's role to house-keeper, the gate keeper of family values, and the necessary sacrifice for the advancement of men.
Later in the 1980s, contraception become largely available for the first time. Before this, contraception was condemned by the church as "anti-Catholic". This meant that any woman who used contraception as a health measure, or to prevent pregnancy, was denounced of her faith and considered less than under the eyes of the Catholic Church. This is morally oppressive as faith should never be trumped over health and the right of women to choose when they have sex, by what means, and with what protection.
Lastly, in the 1990s the last of the Magdalene laundries was closed down in Ireland. These laundries were in essence prisons for women. They were slave labor camps, where unmarried, pregnant or mentally ill women were kept hidden, were abused, and made exempt from Irish society.
These laundries were the epitome of misogynistic oppression of Irish women. Within the laundries women's bodies were regulated, controlled, and systematically abused. Many women were repeatedly raped, beaten, and forced to work excruciatingly long hours. Their bodies became commodities, as they were stripped of their humanity, with their femininity becoming a punishable act.
The fact that these women were stripped of autonomy of their bodies has had a major ripple effect on modern Irish life. The systemic oppression of women in Irish society cannot go unnoticed. We, as a nation, have developed a pattern of oppression when it comes to women's rights. It's so ingrained in our cultural zeitgeist that it can often go unnoticed, but it should never be ignored and, more importantly, it should never be accepted.
Repeal the 8th as a queer issue
When it comes to cultural oppression, the queer community in Ireland can relate easily and readily. Homosexuality was illegal until 1993 and we have only recently begun to turn the tide with the progression of trans rights, yet we still have a long way to go.
It cannot be ignored that the Repeal the 8th movement is a queer issue. Undoubtedly, there are countless individuals in the queer community who will need access to abortions. It is counterproductive to list the reasons why, but some include: forced rape, premature pregnancy and unforeseen health complications.
We should now, more than ever, band with the women of Ireland, whether they are straight or queer. There is a pattern of cultural oppression of women in this country that needs to be broken. Our abortion laws are outdated, and not in line with the progressive Ireland we claim to be. Imagine your sister, your mother, or just any important woman in your life. Don't you want her to have equal rights? That's basically the question that the vote in May is asking us; do women have the right to complete autonomy over their body? Perhaps more importantly, should this even be a question that we need to ask?
"Imagine a world, where the government has ownership of our bodies" - it sounds spooky, alien and insipid. However, currently this is the Ireland that we live in. The government literally is policing and controlling women's bodies. Unfortunately, we have a pattern of condoning that policing with silence. But what is inspiring, is that we have the chance to change this pattern of oppression by voting "yes" and repealing the 8th Amendment. If not for you, do it for those women in your life that need your support now more than ever.
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