Irish abortion referendum - What happened? A New Wave Feminist Perspective


By Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa from New Wave Feminists 

As I walked the cobblestone streets of Ireland with over a hundred thousand other activists in Dublin just a few months ago, there was an energy in the air. It's hard to explain to those who haven't experienced both the pro-life marches in America and in Ireland, but something was just... different. 


See, in the states abortion is legal. It's been legal for 45 years now. During that time it went from being something that people claimed they wanted to be "safe, legal, and rare" to now simply being completely accessible. Now they want abortion to be a procedure similar to having an appendectomy or a wisdom tooth removed.


I would argue that science and technology are to blame for that. See, back in 1973 when a woman received a sonogram, it did kind of look like a clump of cells. All you could make out were fuzzy black and grey figures wiggling around. It looked more like a scrambled TV screen than a human being. But now in 2018, we have made incredible advances in sonogram technology - you can actually have a life-sized depiction of your fetus 3-D printed for you to hold in your hand while your unborn child still bobs around in your womb.


So while I could somewhat understand the dehumanization of the unborn that took place in my country a decade before I was even alive, I really didn't think Ireland would be able to justify abortion on demand in this day and age. When we know better, we do better, right? Evidently not.

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Still, when I was in Dublin back in March the referendum had not yet passed. People were hopeful that Ireland would remain the jewel in the crown of human rights for the unborn. So while our marches are more like a funeral procession given that 60 million abortions have occurred since Roe vs. Wade, in Dublin the march was full of smiles, laughter, and jovial music - a reminder of why we were fighting for life in the first place, because it's wonderful. 


As we turned the corner towards the last leg of the march, the sun broke through the clouds and a woman I'd just met named Jenny Belle, let out a loud squeal of glee. She said she loved the sun and she reached into her pocket to pulled out a sunflower that evidently she carries around at all times. Jenny handed it to me and told me that sunflowers were kind of "her thing." She then went on to tell me how the sunflower carries all of the future sunflowers right there in its center, pointing to its large radius of visible seeds. This, of course, reminded me of one of my very favorite fetal development facts that I had to share with her. "Did you know that when a female fetus reaches 6 months gestation, her tiny ovaries actually carry all of the eggs that might become her future children one day? So basically, when we are pregnant with our daughters, we're also potentially carrying part of our future grandchildren?"

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Absolutely amazing. Women are amazing. 


This is one of the many reasons I'm a feminist. It's also one of the many reasons I'm pro-life.

To a lot of people that sounds like an oxymoron. You can't be pro-life AND a feminist I'm often told. But to me, it's the most natural connection in the world. Given that women were treated as property for most of history, it is absolutely unacceptable for us to turn around and do the exact same thing to any other members of the human family. 

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As feminists, we talk about smashing patriarchal constructs, but why? It's because so many of these oppressive structures were the epitome of ‘might makes right.’ When men held all of the power and status, those that wanted to, were able to control our bodies and use aggressive violence against us however they saw fit. Yet here we are, doing that exact same thing to our status-less, voiceless, non-consenting unborn children simply because we are the bigger, stronger ones now and they are weak and powerless. 


Abortion takes our newfound liberation and uses it not to protect the weak and vulnerable, but instead to perpetuate the very violence we were once oppressed by ourselves. 


Furthermore, when we fight for the legal right to "choice" we often overlook how much other patriarchal forces still stand to gain from abortions. Take the government for instance. Do you have any idea how much an unplanned pregnancy can cost a government entity when you live in a country with universal healthcare and other assistance programs? By definition it was unplanned, so the odds of a couple having the money to cover the cost of a labor and delivery, not to mention the next eighteen years of that child's life, are slim to none. It becomes much easier for the government to subsidize a $500 abortion than a $10K labor and delivery bill, along with any other needs the child might have beyond that point. 


I've witnessed this first hand here in the US. Abortion puts a target on the poor and marginalized. And while the government obviously cannot force you to make that choice, they can certainly make it the easier and more accessible option. Here in the states, the vast majority of all abortion clinics are located in low income, often minority, areas, thus sending a very clear message to the poor that this is the desired "choice." Add to that the fact that women of color here suffer from a higher infant AND maternal mortality rate than their white counterparts, and you begin to see why many minorities almost view abortion as the "safer" option. This is absolutely horrifying. We should be demanding better health care for already marginalized women, not telling them they must choose between their health and the life of their unborn children. 

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This is why I firmly believe as feminists who want to stand up for the most underprivileged and oppressed, we should absolutely be fighting against any form of aggression that treats another human being’s body as property and introduces violence into a "healthcare" system. 


Sadly, with the legalization of abortion in Ireland, I expect to see their impeccable maternal mortality rate (one that is currently a third of what we see here in the US) increase. Their system will no longer be about healing, it will now be about making things more convenient for the powerful, while the weak and voiceless suffer the ultimate cost.


So why then were there hoards of Irish women celebrating in the street as the eighth amendment was knocked down you ask? Well, I have a theory about that as well. Many across the globe will see it merely as a celebration for the right to the access of abortion, but I actually think it goes much deeper than that. We've heard for a long time that those who could afford it - the privileged in Ireland - would travel out of the country to access terminations. (Abortion as a "choice" is always saturated with a certain degree of privilege though, mind you. Even now that it is legal, many women will only "choose" it because they feel they have no other choice.) Anyway, if this is true and many of the women celebrating in the streets did have abortions outside of the country, then I would image many of them were feeling something more akin to relief more than unabashed joy. Their country had just validated their decision. Ireland just told them that abortion was indeed only the removal of a clump of unwanted cells, and not actually the ending of a human life... the life of their own child, no less. 


So yes, I have to imagine if I were a post-abortive woman in Ireland, the repealing of the eighth amendment would indeed lift quite a heavy burden off of my heart. At least momentarily. Assuming I could put the fact that the government has a vested interest in me terminating out of my head.


See, I firmly believe that the stigma surrounding abortion is not man-made. It's biological. Our amazing bodies, the very ones that created a part of our future grandchildren while growing our current children, those bodies know damn well what is taking place during a pregnancy. They know that it is a human person, as weak and vulnerable as that person might be, and our bodies know that abortion goes against everything we were biologically designed to do. To nurture. To use our strength to protect, and not destroy. 


And so as women, while we might want to fool ourselves into believing that abortion is nothing more than an appendectomy, deep down we all know better. We just won't dare let ourselves believe the truth, because the reality of what abortion really is, is simply too horrible to imagine. Unfortunately, now many more Irish women will discover this the hard way. My heart breaks for them, and the generations that will never come to be.


To learn more about the New Wave Feminists and their work in building a culture were women no longer have to consider having an abortion click here

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Charlene OguComment