By Laura Fitzgerald
On 24 September 2016, well over 20,000 predominantly young people were not deterred by the weather or the bus strike to March for Choice. This is more than doubling of the attendance of last year’s March, indicative of the huge momentum that exists for repeal and for abortion rights.
Repeal NOT amend
A sea of black and white REPEAL jumpers accompanied a plethora of banners from new pro choice groups. Socialist Feminist group, ROSA,that Socialist Party members play a key role in, had one of the liveliest contingent. Chants such as “Repeal the 8th: Pro Choice”, “Citizens’ Assembly talking shop: Denying our rights, has to stop”, and the ROSA placard that had “Not Up 4 Debate” emblazoned across a woman’s body summed up the key message of the march – that further pontificating about women’s health, women’s rights, and women’s personal decisions is absolutely galling.
An immediate referendum to repeal the 8th is vital. It’s a half a century since abortion rights were won in Britain and most European countries – the March for CHOICE recognised the need to allow women, as well as trans men and non-binary people, to make their own decisions about their own bodies, not the church or state.
Minister Katherine Zappone, who got elected as a Marriage Equality campaigner with a pro-choice stance, was interviewed while marching (a march that was against her Government!) and raised the spectre of a “replacement of the 8th”. This is yet another warning to the broad abortion rights movement – it’s still possible that the Government will propose an odious compromise with the anti-choice brigade that keeps some restriction on women’s bodies and health in the constitution. This simply cannot be accepted, as it would preclude what we actually need, which is pro-choice legislation and would necessitate yet another referendum.
While the Citizens’ Assembly is sitting, it’s crucial that we keep up the pressure. We need a Conference or Assembly of abortion rights activists to urgently discuss how to achieve this, and to debate issues of tactics and strategy.
Strategy to win needed
Unfortunately, the platform at the March for Choice did not address what strategy is needed to win abortion rights. There was no speaker that rallied people directly for the next immediate steps to build the pro-choice movement. We can’t just have a march every year – the momentum is with us NOW and we have to build a grassroots struggle intensively in this context to ward off any attempt to continue any constitutional cap on our rights, or an attempt to link a referendum with restrictive legislation that means women still have to travel. The explosion of struggle in Poland that has pushed back the Government and Catholic Church attempting to impose a full abortion ban, illustrates this.
The fact that AAA-PBP has a bill being voted on in parliament for an immediate repeal 8 referendum one month after the March for Choice was an obvious immediate focus for local campaigners, as well as for a new bout of potentially mass mobilisations had they been pushed for at the March. Ruth Coppinger, AAA TD requested to speak on the demonstration about this bill that she proposed, and strategy to win more generally, but unfortunately did not get to speak and mobilising around the bill was not raised on the platform.
The abortion rights movement is a broad church. There should be facility for speakers from different trends to raise their perspective re tactics and strategy, as well as of course ensuring migrant women and other sectors very harshly affected by the abortion ban, get to speak. Our people power movement can win, but it will be hampered if we underestimate the political establishment’s hypocrisy and conservatism.