We meet a group of Irish women determined to bring about change
The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign was borne out of frustration. A collective of young women under 30 – all Irish expats living in London – who had decided: enough is enough. ‘People ask why we’re doing it,’ says one of the founders, Cara. ‘The answer is that we can’t afford not to do anything. Nobody can anymore.’
Their goal is clear: free, safe, legal abortion for women on the island of Ireland. 11 Irish women a day are forced, if they can afford it, to fly hundreds of miles to Britain and pay a small fortune for their basic, reproductive rights. Those who stay behind risk criminal prosecution by illegally procuring an abortion pill – or they take matters into their own hands, often with life-threatening consequences. ‘We know of one girl who tried to seek medical help in Ireland for an unwanted pregnancy only to have her passport seized,’ adds Cara Sanquest. ‘Even if a woman has been raped or her life is at risk, she will be denied access to abortion. This is happening in Ireland, right now and in a world where women’s reproductive rights are more under threat than ever, we have to shout about this.’
That’s why, on November 8th last year, the group expected a couple of like-minded women to join their first networking event. What actually happened was that around 250 turned up – every single one of them determined to do something, anything, to make a difference.
‘It is very encouraging to be in a room with so many of what Donald Trump might describe as “nasty women,’” opened one of the speakers, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC. Later, fellow speaker Mara Clarke, founder of the Abortion Support Network, spoke of the two-tier system created by Irish and Northern Irish law. ‘Women with money have options. Women without money have babies. Or drink bleach.’ But the vibe was clear: we’re in this together, let’s do something.
The group left that room inspired and determined. And then the world changed. Donald Trump became the President-elect of the United States. A move that will impact women and girls rights the world over, if he is to follow through with his proposals to cut funding for abortion providers and contraception.
The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign now has a membership of over 600 women, and its growing. They are mostly first generation Irish emigrants from all walks of life: nurses, teachers, journalists, receptionists, accountants. They’ve got full-time jobs and all the usual challenges of living in a big city with too little time and money. What unites them? Anger for sure, but also hope, solidarity with Irish women in Ireland, and a conviction that change depends on all of us.
Here’s why they won’t stop until their mission is complete:
‘Because this is a battle we shouldn’t have to fight in 2016. And I’m grateful that I have a strong group of women to fight alongside. The 8th amendment to the Irish constitution means that women and girls in Ireland face up to 14 years in prison for having an abortion on Irish soil. Over 165,438 women travelled to the UK to access abortion between 1980 and 2015. These women and girls are my friends, and my friends’ friends. I care about this because Irish law criminalises women for accessing basic healthcare and embeds inequality; only women who can afford up to 1000 Euros to travel to Britain really have the right to choose. Women have been silenced and shamed for long enough and it’s time to do something about it.’
Cara Sanquest, is a digital executive in a non-profit organisation
‘Because it’s maddening to watch the Irish government continue to fail Irish women every single day by not trusting them to make decisions about their own bodies. As a mother of two young girls, I feel acutely the injustice of dismissing women’s’ experiences like this. I want my girls to grow up proud of their Irish roots and safe in the knowledge that Ireland respects them, will treat them fairly and will trust them. We stand in solidarity so we can all feel hope.’
Lynn Canham, mother of two
‘For the 77 women who travel from Ireland to Britain to receive healthcare their government refuses to provide. 11 women a day, often alone and travelling to Britain for an abortion in secret, rushing home the same day with no aftercare or support. London-Irish Abortion Rights campaign was founded in the wake of a demonstration that I helped to organise last year when 77 women walked silently with suitcases to the Irish embassy in London. I am deeply ashamed of the Irish and Northern Irish governments for failing to recognise these exiled women and for exporting healthcare to Britain – healthcare that by right they should be provided with at home.’
Hannah Little, is a freelance digital manager
‘Because I cannot watch from the sidelines as the Irish government continues to refuse to deal with abortion. In 2014, when a suicidal migrant woman, pregnant after being raped in her home country, was forced to undergo a C-section in Ireland instead of having the abortion she requested, I thought that would be the turning point. Nothing has changed since then. Campaigning as part of the London-Irish Abortion rights campaign makes me feel less powerless. We need to show that we’re fighting back.’
Maeve O’Reilly, an NGO officer
‘Because I’m done with justifying my own reproductive choices to my fellow country people. For the women in Ireland that can’t afford to travel or can’t escape abusive relationships for long enough to fly to Britain to deal with unwanted pregnancy. For women asylum seekers in Ireland, forbidden to leave the country and denied any control over their body. For solidarity and justice.’
Eleanor White, student and filmmaker
The London-Irish Abortion Rights campaign welcomes new members. For more information, email email@example.com