In our last issue before the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment in May, Adam Lawler looks back over the events of the last year, and forward to the weeks ahead.
It has been a tiring year. Even before the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment was announced to take place on May 25th tensions were rising across Ireland between those on either side of the debate. The years-long battle to repeal the eighth amendment has been augmented by wins and fraught with relative losses, both inhabiting a grey area where no win is completely pure and no loss is completely without merit.
Katie Ascough was case in point. In a moment that startlingly placed UCD in the epicentre of the abortion debate, the SU president was impeached. While she is indeed still gone despite her embittered closing speech, the repercussions can still be felt months after. Pro-choice activists had to wonder how she managed to be elected in the first place. The pro-life hacks in the employ of the Irish Times and the Irish Independent would now have fuel for their zealous fire, and Ascough would unavoidably be seen as a martyr for her beliefs. No one could have predicted the countless interviews and almost weekly op-eds she would be allowed to write for Irish newspapers, the most recent featuring the deathless “there has become a stigma that being pro-life isn’t cool” quote. We should have known, though; missing the point, after all, is the basis of the pro-life “No” side.
No win is completely pure and no loss is completely without merit.
One win for the pro-choice side took place where it counts. Health Minister Simon Harris finally solidified his position firmly on the side of repeal, but even this came after months of debate made truly upsetting by the fact that so many male politicians were not only rallying against abortion but questioning why a referendum was needed in the first place. Then there are the marches; hundreds of thousands attended the marches on International Women’s Day, tainted by the sting of mainstream news outlets’ attempts to skew the numbers and willingness to promote the pro-life marches’ obviously exaggerated figures of attendees at their own marches. This itself could be considered as having brought about a win in that this, and talk shows’ insistence on having representatives from both sides, clearly exposed media bias. It does not make the fight any less tiring, though, especially when considering the motives of the pro-life side; what exactly do they want? If the 8th is retained, then what? Will they advocate for prison sentences, or do they simply wish that the country stop talking about it and go back to normal?
The poster race, especially, seems to expose the mission statements of each side of the campaign. Visibility is important, and the No side got their posters up suspiciously fast, but that means little when the posters are inflammatory and without a printer or affiliation visible. It comes across as more of a mad scramble than a legitimate campaign, and is emphasised by the lack of accurate statements on the posters. “One in five babies are aborted in England” they leer down at passers-by. “Abortion is Murder” scream others, conveniently placed outside primary schools. These tactics should really speak for themselves.
If the eighth is retained, then what? Will they advocate for prison sentences, or do they simply wish that the country stop talking about it and go back to normal?
Imagery is important in posters which, tellingly, often show the internal shot of the foetus, usually a foetus at six months, not the face or body of the woman. It is somewhat confusing that the No side would so brazenly admit that they see women as nothing but vessels, but in these posters, and the ones of the crying rape victim, they do exactly this with no palpable sense of shame. The “License to Kill” slogan is unintentionally hilarious and depressingly stupid all at once. The goal here seems to be to fool the easily-fooled, nothing more, probably less. For a side whose premier argument against the Yes side for so long was to tone-police and accuse them of not being able to have a respectful and mature discussion, this is a failure and a flag as roaring red as the aggressive colour scheme employed. The Yes side has been slow to put up posters by comparison, but posters cost money that is not being handed to the Together for Yes campaign by unseen sources or American donors. Together for Yes have raised €280,000 in the past few weeks, far surpassing their original goal, and they received this amount from actual people.
What we need to remember is that the Yes side of the Repeal campaign is not based on scaremongering, sloganeering, or bullying. It is based on compassion and gently spreading the message through facts and civil play. Every win is heavy and hard-won but all the more satisfying because of the forces of historical subjugation and ignorance that are being challenged and broken down, and the weight of the subject is reflected in the heartening return of the thousands of Irish citizens expected to vote in the referendum. No Americans or hired extras are needed to bolster the side of the campaign that is rooted in suffering, heartbreak, and a desire for justice and fairness. Tides of opinion are turning and there is a righteous fire, but these last few weeks are not the time for complacency. The Yes side is on the right side of history, and hopefully the events of the next few weeks reflect that.