By Mary Kate Hickey
As the rain poured down on the thousands of men, women, children and dogs gathered for the fifth annual March for Choice, a loud cheer could be heard from the crowd to mark the start of our journey.
Neither the rain nor bus strikes were able to deter the thousands of campaigners, young and old, coming to show their opposition to the Eighth Amendment. It is estimated that in all over 20,000 people showed up to march their way to Leinster House.
Sweatshirts, t-shirts, hats and even umbrellas emblazoned with the word “REPEAL” acted as the uniform of choice for the marchers. Among those in a REPEAL sweatshirt was Marie Mitchell, a mother from Sandyford, showing her support to the Abortion Rights campaign. “I’m a mother of two, a son and a daughter. My daughter is 20 and I would like for her, and any woman, to have the choice over what they do with their own body,” she said.
The theme of this year’s rally was “Rise and Repeal” which is a reference to the Constitution and the Eighth Amendment, which equates the life of an unborn baby to that of the mother. And like a rising it felt, with drums, homemade drums and loudspeakers aplenty among the crowd, there was no way it couldn’t have been heard all across the city.
Morale among the crowd was high despite the weather, and campaigners were happy to share their stories of why they felt the need to march in the rain for the right to choice. Rebecca from Tipperary shared her story: “Today I’m marching with Tipp for Choice in honour of my friend Claire who lost her baby Alex to a fatal foetal abnormality. What Claire and Alex went through was pure tragedy and we have to stop punishing tragedy in this country by repealing the Eighth.”
Another person marching was Tanya from Kilkenny. “I set up Kilkenny For Choice this year and I’m marching today because last year, 35 women from Kilkenny had to travel to England to avail of medical services that they need, which is not fair. It’s 2016 [and] women have been denied their rights for far too long. We need to move on to the 21st Century and give women the care they need,” she said.
The high morale was made ever clearer with chants of “not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate”, “pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die,” and “get your rosaries off my ovaries”, keeping us going all the way to Merrion Square.
These chants, along with banners and signs told a story that many Irish women know all too well, a story that these campaigners are seeking to put an end to. Robin, from Germany but living in Ireland was one of the many people carrying banners. He said: “I’m here today because I believe every woman should have the right to choose, and I believe in a broader sense that the Eighth also calls into question everyone’s freedom to make choices over their own body, which is a scary thought.”
Walking along the route with the marchers was an eye-opening experience as you get to hear first-hand stories from them as to why they are there. Claire Loughran from Naas said: “I’m marching today because I think it is an archaic law and it’s about time Ireland gave women the right to their own bodies.” Accompanying Claire was Heather Law, also from Naas, who added: “I’m marching because I think bodily autonomy is an important thing that everyone should have the right to.”
Marchers travelled from all over the country to show their support. James Doyle from Limerick was one of them. “I just think women should have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies, and the state and the church shouldn’t have a say in something so personal,” he said.
Some people also felt that it was their time to give back, like Luke from Galway, who said he was marching to thank everyone for the yes vote in the Marriage Referendum last year. “I’m marching today because so many people marched with the YES EQUALITY movement, and now it’s my turn to return the favour and help people have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies.”
The streets of the city along the route were littered with people attentively watching our journey from one end of the city to the next. Some even stopping in their tracks to applaud us in support. Others there from the opposition, to have their opinions on the right to life heard.
Counter arguments from the Pro-Life side came at one stage in the form of two men, one holding a picture of the Virgin Mary, and one waving a flag. Both were saying that “abortion stops a beating heart” to the marchers.
Members of the Pro-Life campaign also held a counter demonstration on Grafton Street, where they claimed that around 100,000 lives have been saved in Ireland due to not having abortion on demand. (Based on figures of Irish women travelling to UK for abortions and those in UK having abortions.)
*Some people weren’t comfortable giving their full names, but all agreed to have their opinions published with a degree of anonymity.*