Abortion has always being a very divisive issue in Irish society, the most recent opinion poll of October 2016 calling for a repeal of the Eight Amendment to the Irish constitution saw 75% of those surveyed supporting that is should be repealed.
I spoke to Aisling Wallace a mother of two and a pro choice campaigner living in Wexford town on why this issue was so important to her and what are the attitudes like in a rural area of Ireland that can be deemed as more conservative and religious than the more urban areas where traditionally the cities have been the centre of campaigning for abortion rights.
- Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m a 34 year old mother to two small girls. I have just returned to work after a long absence due to injury. I have a higher certificate which I completed part time before my kids were born, but not straight after leaving school.
Since 2010 I have been active in left activism. I have been involved in many local and national campaigns in the fight for a fairer society.
- Why do you feel so strongly about a woman’s right to choose?
Through my own life experiences and through what I have learnt by reading about equality and feminism I know that women have a huge burden which is not fully recognised by the society we live in. This is the role of rearing children. While very rewarding this is also something that can restrict women’s choices in career, access to education, freedom to travel, and many other life choices. Having children is a choice, and women should not be punished by having to travel to another country to access a basic health service. There are many reasons why women might need an abortion, from contraception failure to rape or health issues. I feel strongly that women’s health is and should be treated as an individual issue, not legislated for in our constitution.
I’m a mother to 2 young girls and I want them to be able to choose the direction of their life.
3. Are you involved with any organisations/ groups that promote a right to choose if so you can describe what they are like?
I’m involved with my local pro-choice group in Wexford. We are affiliated to the Abortion Rights Campaign. It’s a small group, where we are all committed to informing and opening the conversation about abortion in Wexford. We have monthly meetings where we discuss various topics surrounding abortion to try and bust the myths that have been compounded by years of religious and societal stigma.
- Have you seen any change of attitude towards abortion in society?
I grew up in Italy, where the church has much less influence on society, and there is a greater sense of freedom of choice. I moved here in 1999. At that time there was no discussion around abortion. Now at least it seems less hidden, and less stigmatised. But that could also be due to the type of circle I am in.
- You live in a relatively rural part of Ireland, do you think this has influence over people perception of a woman’s right to choose
Yes, definitely. I live in a town and the influence of the Catholic Church is in everything, even down to the choice of schools to send your children, or what activities are available in the community, is still huge. I think this has an impact on the stigma women feel about talking about their feelings around abortion. But in women my age and younger I think this is slowly changing. It’s more acceptable to talk about abortion
- Have you ever received any negativity while campaigning for a woman right to choose?
Yes. We had a stall some months back to promote a fundraiser for our group. There is an area in Wexford where the street is for pedestrians, so we had set up our table with some information and flyers for the gig. An evangelist group were further down the street giving out their stuff. We were getting a really good response, people were interested in talking about the issue of women travelling, the 8th amendment etc, until one of the other group came up and started to shout at us and the people who were talking to us. He was using very emotive language. We decided to simply move away from that spot. It was putting people off from stopping to talk.
- How do you feel about the people’s assembly organised by the government do you think it will help towards a referendum?
I’m not at all impressed by the concept of a citizen’s assembly. The idea that 100 people would decide whether or not we should hold a referendum on the issue of removing the 8th amendment is laughable. How were they picked? Who picked them? What were their motives for putting themselves forward? It’s just not a big enough sample to be truly representative. It’s a cowardly move by the government because they don’t want to upset their supporters in ‘Conservative Ireland’ by calling a referendum. But they are aware of the huge support that repeal has in modern Ireland.
- If not what do you think should happen next?
I think the movement is starting to build momentum in pushing the government to action. A referendum to repeal the 8th amendment is the very 1st step for women to have bodily autonomy. But it’s certainly not the last. Women deserve to be able to access basic health care without having to travel. We deserve to be given the best standard if maternal care. We must be allowed to choose when and how to have children. It is paramount if we are to continue to work towards an equal and fair society.