“Not the church, not the state, women must decide our fate.”
These words rang clear in the air outside the Scottish Parliament on Saturday September 30 as men, women, and children showed their solidarity with the women of Ireland.
This protest was organised by the Scottish Irish Abortion Rights Campaign (SIARC) in support of the 6th annual March for Choice.
Thousands of protesters across Ireland and the UK joined together in opposition of Ireland’s anti-abortion legislation.
The event consisted of a variety of speakers, including activists, SIARC volunteers, and university students, sharing everything from personal anecdotes to chants, aspirations for the future to poetry on the topic of women’s rights.
The event follows a recent announcement by Ireland’s Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, that a referendum will be held next spring on whether the 8th Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution should be repealed.
This Amendment guarantees an unborn foetus legal status as a citizen, and criminalises abortion, with a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for any woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy.
Under current law, the options for Irish women are limited.
Thousands of Irish women still live in fear and uncertainty over unwanted pregnancies.
Because abortion is inaccessible in Ireland, many women are forced to travel or pursue unsafe abortion methods.
One speaker remarked that as a young woman facing unwanted pregnancy she was told to “drink a bottle of gin and throw herself down the stairs.”
Other activists shared stories of women travelling to England for abortions, taking illegal pills to terminate pregnancy, purposefully drinking to excess or engaging in other dangerous forms of self-harm in an attempt to self-induce abortion.
Irish activist Zoe Blah further elaborated on the adversity faced by young women in Ireland, discussing the country’s strong and deeply entrenched Catholic faith as a source of political tension and the driving force behind Irish reluctance to legalise abortion.
“The law in Ireland restricts the way we talk about abortion in public situations,” she said, “and this impacts young women from the time they learn what sex is.”
She drew on her childhood memories of sex education class, in which her teacher told the class that sex was “evil.”
Blah’s experiences are representative of countless generations of Irish women, and she believes activism can create a future where women can have access to adequate sex education, contraception, and safe, decriminalised abortion.
Megan Donnelly, a second year student at the University of Edinburgh said, “People who are pro-life really need to think about their beliefs. You cannot call yourself pro-life if you do not value a woman’s life.”
While abortion is legal in the United Kingdom, it is still stigmatised in many contexts.
The political divide over abortion remains prevalent, but the March for Choice gives women a platform to fight for reproductive rights.
The primary objective of the March for is a full repeal of the 8th Amendment, but the event represents much more.
Protesters aim to raise awareness of reproductive issues on a much larger scale with the fierce chants and colourful signs showing that a woman’s right to choose is not negotiable; it is a fundamental human right.
Image: Sarah Aron and Maya Cohen