Several hundred people took part in a demonstration in Dublin last night (Monday 4 March) demanding the government legislate for abortion access as laid down in the X-Case judgement over 21 years ago. Government after government have refused to introduce this legislation due to politicians own conservatism and their fear of the huge resources of the US funded anti-choice movement. But the massive mobilisations that followed news of the death of Savita Halappanavar after she was refused an abortion in a Galway hospital in the Autumn have forced the Labour Party & Fine Gael to finally begin the process of introducing legislation.
Last night's picket was one part of the Ten days of Abortion Rights Action which continues all week. It was felt that it was important to hold some sort of demonstration as part of the 10 days so the picket of the European Conference of Health Ministers was chosen as a suitable event. The crowd of several hundred (we have seen estimates of 500-800) met up at the Central Bank where they were addressed by Action On X Spokesperson Sinead Kennedy before marching the short distance to the picket site outside Dublin Castle / City Hall.
The march was led off by Legislate for X banner other banners we noted as being present included Nations Women's Council of Ireland, Queers for Choice, USI, LGBT Noise, Savita Never Again, Terminations for Medical Reasons, UCD Pro Choice, Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries and Choice Ireland. Contingents from TCD and UCD Pro Choice society had travelled from both those colleges to the Central bank meet up point.
A number of representatives from organisations spoke outside City Hall including Kathleen O'Neill from Kilbarrack CPA, a National Womens Council of Ireland rep and Laura Harmon from USI. Peadar O'Grady from Doctors for Choice said Ireland was "exporting women like cattle" and warned that the risk of suicide increases when abortion is denied - he also pointed out that abortion was the only procedure that required more than the informed consent of the woman. The Terminations For Medical Reasons (TFMR) speaker said she was forced a year previously to travel to Britain to terminate a wanted but dying baby. There was also a Youth Workers Against Cuts protest on nearby, speakers from that rally also addressed the picket before Ailbhe Smyth from Action on X said "We need to remove the 8th amendment from the constitution. We need a referendum. Women lives matter". Osaro than spoke about the additional difficulties faced by migrant women. The picket then chanted "Reilly Reilly Reilly, Out Out Out" and "Shame" in an expression of frustration with the delays in introducing legislation by Minister for Health, James O'Reilly, who was at the conference inside.
The striking thing about the picket is that such a large number of people turned out when the government has already claimed to be introducing legislation soon. There are probable reasons for the large turnout. First people rightly do not trust the government to give in to the minuscule but well funded and connected anti-choice movement. The fear is that even the very limited X-case legislation will come with multiple hoops that suicidal women will have to jump through before they can access abortion rather than simply being a decision made between the woman and her GP. Secondly there is widespread awareness that the X-Case legislation is only a tiny part of what is needed before any woman who wants an abortion can access one in Ireland as part of our health service. The fear is that once the X case legislation is introduced, unless massive pressure is maintained, it will be another 20 years of thousands of women being forced to travel for abortions every year for all the other reasons women make that choice.