Free, Safe, Legal: Thousands Demand Ireland Bring Abortion 'Out of the Shadows'

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Free, Safe, Legal: Thousands Demand Ireland Bring Abortion 'Out of the Shadows'

Mass march calls for repeal of the country's anti-abortion laws, which are some of the most restrictive in the world

"Today we protest against laws that exile, criminalize and traumatize women and girls living in Ireland," said Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland. (Photo: Tony Galvin/Irish Independent)

Thousands marched through the Irish capital of Dublin on Saturday demanding that lawmakers make abortion "free, safe, and legal" by immediately repealing the constitution's eighth amendment—which bans the medical procedure.

Organized by the Abortion Rights Alliance and Amnesty International Ireland, the March for Choice will be the last such mass mobilization before Ireland's next general election. Organizers expressed hope that the large crowds will send a clear message to candidates that securing the public's vote requires a strong commitment to legalizing reproductive health care.

"Today we protest against laws that exile, criminalize and traumatize women and girls living in Ireland," said Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland. "We protest at the rank hypocrisy of successive Irish governments who choose not to vindicate the human rights of women and girls, but instead to outsource Ireland’s human rights obligations."

"Today we demand repeal of the eighth amendment so we can finally bring abortion out of the shadows, so we can finally bring to an end a culture of silence and pretense."
—Colm O'Gorman, Amnesty International Ireland

"Today we demand repeal of the eighth amendment so we can finally bring abortion out of the shadows, so we can finally bring to an end a culture of silence and pretense," O'Gorman continued.

Passed in 1983, Ireland's eighth amendment effectively grants citizenship rights to fetuses, thereby prohibiting the procedure in all cases. What's more, the "Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act," passed in 2013, extends criminalization to health care providers who provide, refer, or give information about abortions.

As a result, Ireland has one of the most restrictive reproductive rights climates in the world. Having an abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and medical staff can be fined up to €4,000 for referring a patient for the procedure—or merely providing information. Legal prohibitions force roughly 4,000 people to leave Ireland every year to have an abortion in another country, according to Amnesty International.

But the Irish government is facing growing opposition to these laws.

A recent poll conducted by RED C Research and Marketing on behalf of Amnesty International found 67 percent of respondents said the Irish government should decriminalize abortion. Another recent poll by Claire Byrne Live/Amárach Research determined that more than a quarter of people in Ireland say that abortion will be a "deciding factor" in how they vote in the general election.

At a press conference kicking off Saturday's march, Emma Campbell of the Belfast-based Alliance for Choice declared that "progress on abortion access anywhere on this island is good for everyone on it."

"Feminism and rebellion are woven into the fabric of our island’s history," Campbell continued, "and we intend to keep our position strong and make our voices heard until we are finally recognized as humans, as equals."

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