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'As the first TD to speak about my abortion, I hope to dispel the shame'

I’m delighted to have the chance to explain why I’m so passionate about repealing the Eighth Amendment, writes Brid Smith.

Bríd Smith People Before Profit TD

ALL MY LIFE life I and all Irish women have been denied bodily autonomy, control over our own bodies, control over our own lives. I believe that now, in a changed Ireland, we have a real chance to start to change this situation for women.

When I spoke out about my abortion at the Body & Soul Women’s Podcast, there was a hugely warm, compassionate and positive response. As the first TD to speak on such a personal subject, I hope that it has helped to dispel the shadow and secrecy and often the shame that surrounds the real issue of abortion for women in Ireland.

A dark past

We have lived with a regime through dark times that took control over every aspect of our sexuality and our reproductive rights. A regime was imposed by the Church and the state that decreed that girls and women were not supposed to be sexual, especially outside of marriage. There was enforcement of that by denunciations from pulpits, walks of shame, Magdalene laundries, Mother and Baby homes, forced adoptions and forced emigration.

There was a denial of access to contraception which resulted in women having 10, 14 sometimes more children, whether or not they wanted to. Without legal access to divorce women (and often men) were forced to remain in dead marriages.

There was and remains an absence of any honest sex education in our schools. Young women (and young men) have lacked the basic information needed to control their sexual reproduction.

The absolute prohibition of abortion

At the heart of this whole system of power over women lay the absolute prohibition of abortion, enshrined in the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Today much of the state’s apparatus of power over women has withered although not without a fight every step of the way. But the Eighth amendment remains.

The opponents of choice say this is about “life”. They say they believe in the sanctity of human life. I don’t believe this rhetoric. I have never, ever seen, the same people who mobilised for the Rally for Life recently, mobilise their forces for say, an anti-war demonstration, or against the austerity measures that condemned many, including children to a life of poverty and deprivation.

Surely war is the deliberate taking of human life and if you believe in its sanctity you would be opposed to war. If you really believed that the lives of “babies” were of the utmost importance, then you would use all resources and influence to mobilise against the housing crisis that has over 2,000 children living in emergency accommodation.

If you wanted to protect babies then wouldn’t you be fighting the government every time they cut resources to lone parents and drive more and more children into absolute poverty.

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Wanting to maintain control

For me this says what they really care about is not life itself but maintaining power and control over women, over their reproductive lives, over their sex lives. I believe that they instinctively think that by controlling women they can control the moral standards of the entire population.

I also think that social class is a big factor in all of this. It was women and children of the poor and the working class who suffered the most under the Magdalene/ Mother and Baby homes system, just as it was poor and working class boys who bore the brunt of the industrial school system. The rich, by and large, have always be able to find ways of accessing abortion.

When the 8th Amendment is gone, I want to see it replaced with free, safe and legal access to abortion for all women, not a regime of restriction. The more restrictions there are the more it will hurt those with the least economic resources.

Women have to be free to choose both to have a child and not to have a child. That also means having access to housing, decent health and education services, jobs and financial security. It is all part of a struggle for a more equal society for all.

Brid Smith is a People Before Profit TD.

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About the author:

Bríd Smith  / People Before Profit TD

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