The repeal the 8th amendment is an LGBT issue because it is about our sense of ourselves as people, our sense of having control over who we are, how we live our lives, and who gets to define us, says Ailbhe Smyth, as is the fight for LGBT equality.
The Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment was set up after the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013 because a small number of us, about 10 or 12 organisations, felt that the only way that we were going to get a referendum to repeal the 8th was if we grouped together to start putting the issue on the table. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was completely inadequate and fundamentally we have to face the music and get legislation in place that’s going to meet women’s needs.
Over the past three years the Coalition grew very carefully and now it has more than 60 organisations, crossing a very broad spectrum, including women’s organisations, trade unions and larger human rights organisations like the ICCL and Amnesty. Our strapline is: To respect and protect women’s lives, health and choices.
Our main roles have been to encourage more people to get involved, to engage and express their solidarity, and at the same time we’ve done a lot of political work. We work very hard with TDs, senators, councillors and so on to look at how repeal can come about, and with all the fantastic work being done now, we can honestly say the issue has been completely turned around. There is quite a strong consensus in the Dáil that this needs to happen, and there is a brilliant, growing groundswell of public opinion.
Time to stop denying this is a problem
People are now saying it’s time to come out of hiding, it’s time to stop denying that this is a problem. It is a problem. It’s a problem that has to be solved if we think we’re any kind of decent country at all. The pretending is over; we need equality. We need to put in place health services that women can access who need or want abortion. It’s not more complicated than that.
Building on the fantastic Yes Equality victory in May 2015, there is a sense amongst the young population, the under 35s, that we can do this. I’m not sure we had that feeling before Yes Equality; it’s enabled us to say this is social change that we absolutely need, that we can do it. And interestingly, people from the older generations who have had experiences of those in their own families, or of themselves, needing or wanting or having an abortion, are finding their voices now too.
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LGBT rights organisations are very important in this. I think of my own history fighting for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans rights, and particularly for lesbian and gay rights at the beginning – it was about our sense of ourselves as people, our sense of having control over who we are, how we live our lives, who gets to define us; who gets to name us, so to speak.
I have always wanted to say my sexuality is my sexuality, it’s not your definition or somebody else’s. Really what we’re talking about here is exactly the same. Sexuality is central to our lives and we experience it positively and negatively in all kinds of ways, but at all times it is about ourselves and our bodies. That’s what abortion is about for women – it’s about ourselves and our bodies.
Abortion is a socio-sexual issue. So too was the whole issue of marriage rights for lesbian and gay people. It’s about being able to control our destinies, the kinds of options that we have, the kinds of decisions that we can make about our lives. It’s about the definition and control of sexuality in our country; it’s absolutely of a piece.
There are too very good historical reasons for LGBT organsitions to be part of the coalition. The women’s movement has always been absolutely in there, supporting LGBT rights in this country. We haven’t shied away from it, even in the early days when it wasn’t easy.
It’s really important that just as the feminist movement fought for LGBT rights, that the LGBT movement fight for women’s rights to control our sexuality and our reproduction. It makes absolute sense, and I do believe that LGBT people are very supportive. It’s about that movement, that progressive social change, that journey we’ve all been embarked on for such a long time now.
People might say, how on earth did we get marriage equality before we got abortion? It’s because we do still live in a patriarchal culture and it is still about controlling women. Preventing women the right to control our own bodies is the ultimate form of control, and I don’t think that there’s a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans person in this country who would put up with that principle for one single minute anymore.
This column first appeared in the September 2016 issue of GCN.
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