Yesterday marked a quiet end to one of the most ferocious battles in Irish politics. After years of campaigning, many false starts and setbacks, the eighth amendment’s reign in Ireland came to an end. As President Michael D Higgins signed the 36th amendment to the constitution, you could feel the country let out a long slow sigh of relief.
In some ways, it felt anticlimactic. As someone who spent the better part of the last two years covering every twist and turn of the debate, the actual event of signing the eighth out of the constitution seemed to come from nowhere, floating in under many people’s radars until the moment the president signed the order. However, perhaps it was a suitable end to a debate that was wrought with difficult conversations and painful memories for so many people. Yesterday wasn’t about marching, shouting and demanding rights. It was a memorial for all the women in this country who have suffered and it was the hopeful start of a more considerate future.
While taking a moment to soak in this success is important, it must also be recognised that there is work left to do. Yesterday was a momentous day but editing the constitution was only one step of the process. The legislation that will define how we treat abortions in this country is yet to come. Minister for Health Simon Harris tweeted yesterday that the legislation would be introduced to the cabinet next week and on to the Dáil in early October. While it was okay to let yesterday’s events quietly happen, an eagle eye must be kept on the legislative process. The government has largely set out what it intends to implement but politics is a fickle business and keeping the issue on the agenda, especially as the housing crisis continues to dominate news coverage, is essential.
Besides this, we have yet to achieve full equality on the island of Ireland. Support from those in Northern Ireland has always been essential to the fight in the Republic but they still sadly boast the most restrictive abortion laws in the UK. While the fight in the North is legislatively easier, public opinion is more divided. The debate is at a much earlier stage than that seen here in recent months. It is changing though.
Yesterday wasn’t about marching, shouting and demanding rights. It was a memorial for all the women in this country who have suffered and it was the hopeful start of a more considerate future
Last October, a record number of people took to the streets of Belfast to protest the issue. Speaking to The University Times at the time, Olivia Potter-Hughes, the President of National Union of Students–Union of Students in Ireland (NUS–USI), said that “it’s long past the time that we had those rights”. Noting the increased crowd size compared to previous years, she said that “this movement is growing” and politicians “will have no choice but to listen to us”. Groups from Kerry, Sligo and a number of student groups from the Republic all travelled to show solidarity. It is especially essential that students continue to lend their support. A key demographic in the debate here, students also made up a large number of those marching in Belfast. This support cannot stop now that we are nearing the conclusion of our debate.
The annual March for Choice is coming up on September 29th. Compared to a year ago, the country is in a much different position. Much like yesterday, it will be a day to celebrate how far we have come but not a time to rest on our laurels. Many people are still largely unaware of how an Ireland without the eighth will operate. A campaign of education needs to continue and we need to show solidarity to those on this island who are still fighting for bodily autonomy. Our attention is being tugged by other debates but it is important that we see this issue out until the end.