My face presses against the windowpane as the plane wheels hit the tarmac. I peer out at my new home and find myself surprised that the sun is shining: out of character but a good omen, I tell myself.
“You are now free to move about the cabin”—and I do feel freer than I ever have. I’m entirely on my own, I know not a soul here. A blank slate denotes doing as one pleases.
Except for that I’ve just moved to Ireland and there’s a certain implication that I’ve surrendered my bodily autonomy upon arrival. Because under the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution, a woman’s, or any person who can become pregnant’s, right to life is not fully realized.
The amendment, passed in 1983, positions the life of a fetus to that of a mother, meaning that pregnant people in Ireland are subject to state regulations and abortion is entirely illegal.
Meaning if a woman’s life is in jeopardy due to a miscarriage, she’ll be denied a termination.
Meaning even if a woman is declared brain-dead, she will be kept on life support for weeks if the 15-week fetus has a heartbeat.
Meaning if a woman who becomes pregnant simply isn’t ready to have a child and cannot afford to travel to England for abortion care, she will order pills online and face up to twelve years in prison.
The 8th amendment in Ireland has ignored, shamed, and killed women.
Yet this list of offenses is hardly surprising given that the last “Mother and Baby home”—Irish maternity work homes where single mothers were separated from their children who often died of neglect or malnourishment—was only closed a little over twenty years ago. The remains of children such as these were discovered in 1975. The hypocrisy of “pro-lifers” name-calling “baby killers” is not lost on so fresh, so raw a wound.
This country that has given me so much has yet to give basic healthcare to half its population. That overwhelming sense of independence and freedom when I first arrived has been replaced with uncertainty leading up to a referendum on May 25th that will decide whether or not to “Repeal the 8th”.
Every day I walk past the posters:
“YES, for women; YES for compassion”
and so on. But also:
“License to kill” and “Vote NO to abortion on demand.”
Passing by one day, I didn’t stick around to hear one poor mother explain to her curious child who couldn’t understand why someone would write “Babies will die” on a sign.
The plane touches down, face pressed eagerly against the glass: “You are now free to move about the cabin.”
But you’re a woman and your rights are never guaranteed. The ones you didn’t even think to question. The ones you don’t realize you have or need until you understand the cruelty of unavailability, hushed tones, and shame. The cruelty of waiting.
No matter where in the world you find yourself, to be a woman fully and freely comes with the baggage: “terms and conditions apply.”
To be a woman is to have your rights used as a political football, your healthcare strewn across headlines like confetti.
To be a woman is arranging when and how to access contraceptive care depending on who is in office.
Dependent. To be a woman is to be dependent on the system—and that system is almost always built by men.
It was said recently that it is little wonder why women in Irish folklore are always angry. Gráinne Mhaol, the pirate leader; Queen Medb, the warrior queen; Mis, the wild woman. The land itself, Éireann, is consistently portrayed as shrieking, indignant, pillaged.
She is furious with her predecessors. She is exhausted from her mistreatment. And she is ready for her independence, long overdue.
Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan. There is no freedom until the freedom of women.
Repeal the eighth.