By Angie Weisgal
Despite the rain and the bus strike, tens of thousands showed up at the March for Choice in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.
While the crowd were predominantly young adults, they came from all different political parties and affiliations. Before the march from the Garden of Remembrance to O’Connell Street to Merrion Square, some rallies were held around the Ambassador Theatre and Garden of Remembrance.
Speakers like Ruth Coppinger, TD and Laura Fitzgerald, spokesperson for ROSA, a socialist feminist organisation, spoke about how “women can’t wait” and how there cannot be a compromise.
“Have a look at the placard ROSA has today. It’s quite a simple message: Women’s bodies or anybody’s, trans or non-binary, bodies for that matter are not up for debate or discussion. We don’t want any pontificating about whether in this case it’s okay, in that case it’s okay. Women have to be trusted. We have to be trusted to make decisions about our own bodies and lives. It’s very simple,” Laura Fitzgerald said.
Ireland went from being a country where homosexuality and divorce were illegal to being an “Ireland we do not live in anymore,” said a UCD student named David. He added that the 8th amendment dates to a time when homosexuality and divorce were illegal and he said that this is why it is time for the 8th amendment to be repealed.
Ruth Coppinger, TD is closely involved with ROSA. She said one of the key issues for ROSA is abortion rights. “We had the abortion pill bus and train actions last year with Women on Web to highlight the availability of the abortion pills and to challenge directly the archaic law.” She said that this year’s March for Choice would be the “biggest march there’s ever been on the issue of bodily autonomy and abortion rights.”
One protester from Limerick who wishes to remain anonymous said she had an abortion at home with the help of Women on Web and felt a huge stigma. “I couldn’t leave my apartment. I thought people could see that I was pregnant, when I wasn’t physically pregnant,” she told The Limerick Voice.
During the march, protesters chanted slogans like “My Body My Choice,” “What do we want? The right to choose. When do we want it? Now!,” and “Not the church. Not the state. Women must decide their fate”.
In Merrion Square, some speakers from the Abortion Rights Campaign addressed the crowd, talking about how abortion affects people of all backgrounds living in Ireland.
Ellie Kisyombe spoke on how the 8th amendment hurts asylum seekers and refugees. “I am here today fighting for reproductive justice of all women in Ireland. We understand that migrants and asylum seekers and other marginalised people are disproportionately affected by Ireland’s outrageous, restrictive abortion laws,” Kisyombe said.
“The money I get is only €19.10 a week. How can I put up money? Even the 13th amendment does not stand for me. Where are you putting me as a woman asylum seeker?” She said about her struggles. “…You have to start including us.”
Rosaleen McDonagh, a Traveller activist echoed the sentiment expressed by Kisyombe. “As a Traveller woman, many of us have been in very precarious situations in our relationships with the law and with the Department of Health, we have often been pushed around and ignored. We are not considered important women. We have stood on the side lines of feminism for far too long,” she said.
The rally finished off with the crowd singing a bilingual version of “Trasna na dTonnta” with lyrics changed to tell a different story, “one that Irish women experience every day. The journey away from Ireland, the journey east over the waves to the UK or the Netherlands,” as introduced at the rally. Mary Coughlin lead the group in singing the new version of the traditional Irish song.
“I thought it was great how many people turned out, but the demographics were sort of young, mostly white. I was actually pleased with how many men turned up as well. There was a good balance there, but aside from that the demographics weren’t very diverse. But I thought the feeling and everything was great and there was a really good crowd and lots of really great people making really great points,” Clodagh Callanan, a student at UL said.
There was little counter-protest in Dublin from the pro-life side. One person waved a Vatican flag while protesters walked by and a mobile billboard that said “Abortion is violence against mothers & babies. Save lives. Save the 8th,” sponsored by the Dublin based pro-life group, Youth Defence, drove around the march route. A woman who was likely involved with the Life Institute wore a repeal jumper and attempted to infiltrate the march.
A spokesperson from The Life Institute said “It is interesting that, despite a solid week of free media promotion and money coming from George Soros, the March for Choice failed to draw the expected crowd of 20,000. In contrast, the Rally for Life, which gets no media publicity or funding from US billionaires drew almost 30,000 people last year.”
The Limerick Voice attempted to reach Youth Defence for comment, but did not receive a response.