IRELAND – A group of women are driving around Ireland to advocate for abortion rights, as many continue to oppose the country’s highly restrictive laws against the procedure.
The eighth amendment of the constitution of Ireland states the right to life of the unborn is equal to that of the woman, meaning that abortion is illegal unless a woman’s life is seen to be in immediate danger.
ROSA (Reproductive rights against Oppression, Sexism, and Austerity) will drive the “Bus4Repeal” between Dublin, Cork, and Galway between 6 and 8 March as part of ongoing campaigns for a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment.
“We’re protesting the almost total ban on abortion in Ireland and want to make it clear that when we say we want to repeal the eighth, we do not mean replace the eighth with a less severe abortion ban which says some women’s abortions are acceptable but that some should be shamed and sent to the UK,” Rita Harrold, a ROSA spokesperson traveling on the bus told BuzzFeed News.
An estimated 12 women per day travel from Ireland and Northern Ireland, where abortion is also illegal, to access the procedure at private clinics in Great Britain. Around three Irish women per day purchase abortion pills online, which induce miscarriage in early pregnancies. The medication is illegal in Ireland and Northern Ireland, although it is widely considered to be safe.
ROSA volunteers on the bus will help connect women facing crisis pregnancies with Women on Web, an online organisation that supplies the pills required for a medical abortion to women in countries where the procedure is illegal.
“We work with Women on Web because they’re an amazing group of doctors and activists who support women’s choices all around the world, even if the political establishments of their countries have not caught up with the fact that women’s healthcare has to include reproductive rights and has to include abortion,” Harrold said.
“We’re linking women with Women on Web, who will do a medical consultation through the website, and women can also speak to one of their doctors through Skype or the phone if necessary.”
As well as rallies at the bus’s numerous scheduled stops, which include Waterford, Limerick, and Maynooth, volunteers will also provide educational information on abortion, the distribution of which is restricted in Ireland.
“I went to a Catholic school – which you don’t really get a choice in here anyway – and abortion was only talked about in our religion class where our male religion teacher told us abortion was horrible,” Niamh Plunkett, a biomedical science student at University College Dublin, where the Bus4Repeal launched on Monday, told us. “That’s the only point that it’s talked about and you can’t get the correct information.”
Harrold told us she believes there is still a lot of “scaremongering” around abortion in Ireland. “The Irish media don’t necessarily fully represent the whole story, so we’re trying to put the essential information to people, to empower them to be able to take care of their own health,” she said.
“We want to provide information so that even if a woman doesn’t have €1,000 to travel to England, that they still have the right to make a decision to continue a pregnancy or not, and that these pills are available if women need them.
“We have some basic facts about the pills and how to use them safely. Because the reality is you, me, the government, priests, do not care more about women’s health than an individual woman does, and no matter what the law is, this is the reality and this is happening.”
Julia Canney, who is studying for a master's in human rights at UCD, told us that students feel “particularly vulnerable” in the face of current abortion laws as they can’t necessarily afford to travel for the procedure.
“If you have to travel you have to find the money on top of your school fees and living,” she said. Canney also feels the lack of information available on abortion makes things difficult for Irish women. “You have to figure out how to get to England for an abortion, or to procure abortion pills without really knowing what they do,” she continued.
“That’s where the ROSA bus comes into play because they’re giving information on something that people don’t really know about and don’t know is an option.”
Also travelling on the bus on Monday was Ruth Coppinger, a member of parliament (TD) for the Anti-Austerity Alliance. She praised ROSA’s efforts in raising awareness about abortion pills, which she believes have helped many women in poverty, who were unable to travel to England, to access abortion safely.
“ROSA has done a huge amount in Ireland to promote medical abortion pills,” Coppinger told BuzzFeed News. “I think a lot of people in Ireland didn’t know about them before that, and also to debunk the myths about them being dangerous.”
This weekend the Citizens' Assembly of Ireland met for the fourth of five weekend sessions on abortion, but Coppinger worried that debate still wasn’t going far enough to focus on women’s health, instead swaying towards justifying abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality.
“It’s becoming about who deserves an abortion and it’s just not dealing with the reality,” Coppinger said. She believes there are numerous reasons why a woman might want an abortion, including social and economic reasons, and that no circumstance should be valued over another. “I just think there’s an agenda going on to soften people up to accept something less than repeal,” she continued. “The Citizen’s Assembly will obviously recommend change, but what kind of change will be the question.”
At its first two stops in Dublin and Waterford on Monday, the bus was met by anti-abortion groups displaying graphic images of aborted foetuses. In Waterford, two teenage girls wearing jumpers with the slogan “yes life” chanted: “Two, four, six eight, we appreciate the eighth!”
“The unborn is a human being deserving of full legal rights as we could give any other human being,” Christian Hacking, a representative of the Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, told BuzzFeed News outside UCD.
He said the group did not view their presence as a protest, but more of an “educational display”. Hacking believed the use of graphic images was important in humanising those affected by abortion. “In exposing the Holocaust, people didn’t show pictures of small Jewish boys, they showed piles of the deceased in concentration camps,” he said. “We too show pictures of the deceased, not because they’re nice, but because this is what abortion does.”
The bus will return to Dublin for the “Strike4Repeal,” coordinated walkouts by women and their supporters, and the “March4Repeal,” a mass demonstration in Dublin on Wednesday.
The strike and march coincide with feminist action taking place globally for International Women’s Day.