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On International Day to Decriminalise Abortion

This afternoon, for (I believe) the first time, the pro-choice movement in Ireland will mark the International Day for Decriminalisation of Abortion with a rally and march through Dublin city centre. It will begin at 2pm at the Spire on O’Connell Street and march to Merrion Square. I will be marching with the Choice Ireland contingent, and hope to see you Irish readers there.

I have reservations about the “Decriminalise Abortion” slogan. To decriminalise something means only the removal of criminal penalties for it; it does not mean that it becomes available, accessible or affordable. We can see this in the United States, where 40 years after Roe vs Wade decriminalised (most) abortions, access is still blocked for many women due to cost, burdensome conditions or simple lack of a provider in their area. If Ireland’s Offences Against the Person Act 1861 was repealed tomorrow, I doubt it would make much difference to the farmer’s daughter in County Leitrim, or to the asylum seeker in Waterford getting €19 a week.

That said, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that Decriminalisation Day was initiated by women in the Global South, not Ireland. I’m certainly not telling them how to campaign in their own part of the world. And there are tragic cases, like that of Rosa Hernandez in the Dominican Republic, where decriminalisation alone really might have made a difference. In no way do I wish to undermine the efforts of women fighting to prevent Rosa’s story repeating itself.

But abortion is a woman’s right, and we must be clear that it is a positive right to which we are entitled and not merely something that the law should not prohibit. Decriminalise it, of course. But let there be no mistaking that for our objective.

On a final note, I’d like to thank Youth Defence for their appalling recent billboard campaign, which has galvanised the Irish pro-choice movement like nothing in the past 20 years. Undoubtedly they’ll undercount our numbers this afternoon and proclaim our march much smaller than the last one they held. And it probably will be smaller than theirs. But the important thing is that ten years or even five years ago, there would have been half as many of us and twice as many of them. Those are the numbers that matter – and don’t think for a moment they don’t know it.