A significant feature of the thousands strong march on 29 September in Dublin to mark International Decriminalisation of Abortion Day was the number of young people, especially young women, who participated – young people who frequently make the point that they are shocked at the backward laws that exist in Ireland in the 21st century and who correctly feel that women should be afforded the basic right to choose when and if they have children.
About 150,000 Irish women have sought abortion services in Britain since the 1980s. With austerity and crisis impoverishing huge swathes of working class women in particular, the €1000 plus needed to travel to safely access an abortion is and will increasingly mean women taking risks at home to terminate. That’s not even mentioning migrant women, or women in abusive relations, who face other barriers in travelling on top of the prohibitive cost. We’ve seen a rise in riskily unregulated, internet-ordered abortion pills being seized by customs in recent years in this context. This year, 20 years after the fact, the main parties, including Labour, voted down a bill to legislate for the X Case ruling which would allow access to a termination for a woman if her life was in danger.
Why does this backward legal and social reality for women exist? Irish capitalism – weak, corrupt, historically reliant on the Catholic Church given its weakness, has never, despite the Celtic Tiger illusion, developed into a modern capitalist state. The despicable child-abuse facilitating Catholic Church has never been so discredited and so reviled, and yet no government, including the current one that includes the Labour Party, has challenged the privileged role that that misogynistic, homophobic institution continues to hold in education and health creating a block on the development of proper sex education, progressive, secular, and comprehensive public health system and choice for women.
Given the nature of the capitalist state and the spineless politicians that form part of it, mass and sustained struggle is the only way we can ensure legislation for X is passed and win the right to choose for women today. The Labour Party claims to support legislating for X but has done nothing to validate its claim during the times it was in government in the last 20 years, although its TDs did dutifully vote down the bill in April.
The Facebook page set up by an individual in response to Youth Defence’s offensive anti-choice ad’ campaign has struck a chord with a fresh section of young women who are willing to get active on this issue, and has managed to mobilise people to important meetings and demonstrations that can and must be the start of building a pro-choice struggle.
There is a clear basis and need for a meeting or conference to establish a broad, open and democratic, non party-political pro-choice campaign that calls a further demonstration to coincide with the report from the Expert Group. Such a campaign would aim to activate a whole new generation on the issue who have the potential to build a campaign that can reach into and mobilise support in communities, workplaces, schools and colleges throughout the country, a campaign with the potential to build for massive protest and civil disobedience, that can campaign for trade union support, all of which would constitute the building of a struggle in society that can really push for free, safe and legal abortion.
Such a struggle is a natural ally to the fight against austerity and capitalism. The upcoming budget with likely swingeing attacks on children’s allowance, the already ailing health service and more will constitute a further impoverishment of working class people, and working class women in particular. Socialists are struggling for real choice for women – something that capitalist system of austerity, mass unemployment and the ownership of the majority of wealth and resources by a tiny global elite, is incapable of providing.