The lessons of Repeal the 8th

Submitted by SJW on 1 May, 2018 - 9:39 Author: Elizabeth Butterworth
Repeal 8th artwork

Elizabeth Butterworth reviews Repeal the 8th, edited by Una Mullally (2018, Unbound press)

Viewing the Repeal movement from my little shared one bed in north London, it’s easy to romanticise the struggle of my Irish sisters.

Many aspects of the Repeal movement deserve to be extolled and are genuinely moving. Whether Irish Repeal activists win or lose the referendum on 25 May – and it looks from the outside like they may win – the Repeal movement can provide useful lessons for activists around the world.

Repeal has produced and inspired art, poetry, essays, stories and comedy and imbued scores of women with the confidence they can use to change the world.

Repeal is simultaneously a very broad movement with lots of nuances and shortcomings. The Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment is made up of more than 100 organisations.

This breadth is reflected in the Repeal the 8th anthology edited by Irish Times journalist Una Mullally.

Some of the strongest material in this collection comes from the personal stories in chapter 1. Other highlights include Aisling Bea’s comic essay, which made me laugh out loud on the Tube; Elaine Feeney’s history lesson; and the pictures of the artworks the movement has produced. Siobhan Fenton’s essay on Northern Ireland is a thought-provoking call to arms.

Caitlin Moran’s contribution is curious.

She’s an engaging and lively writer, which resounds throughout, but some of the political points she makes are really wrong.
This one has troubled me particularly:

“…What I do believe to be genuinely sacred – and, indeed, more useful to the earth as a whole – is trying to ensure there are as few unbalanced, destructive people as possible. By whatever rationale you use, ending a pregnancy twelve weeks into gestation is incalculably more moral than bringing an unwanted child into this world… It’s those unhappy, unwanted children who then grew into angry adults, who have caused the great majority of humankind’s miseries. They are the ones who make estates feral, streets dangerous, relationships violent.”

We’re offered no evidence for this unqualified statement, presumably because it’s meant to be self-evidently or observably true.

Even as a liberal feminist I would’ve thought Moran would have a more structural and nuanced understanding of violence, oppression and psychology.

People do not become violent abusers simply because they were unhappy or unwanted children, and plenty of people who grow up without parents or in unloving homes become caring people.

I understand that this is polemic to drive home a point, but it’s inexcusable lazy and unhelpful thinking.  

Later in the anthology, there is a write-up of an interview with Ailbhe Smyth, the convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment and Co-Director of the Together for Yes campaign (the mainstream campaign for Repeal).

Although bitty and meandering, this is more politically enlightening.

This sentence stuck with me: “Keeping ownership of and keeping hold of women who reproduce means keeping ownership of the products of that process.” Smyth argues that women’s oppression has very deep roots, especially in what I would refer to as class society.

Irish women are in an unusual position compared to women in most other countries in the global North, in that until very recently (and to a point this carries on today) their lives were controlled, on a societal level, by religion.

The Irish women’s movement is perhaps able to teach the rest of us something about the way women’s oppression is recycled and meted out by church, state and society.

As women’s rights are being won in many places and ways, in others, our lives are still often very tightly controlled.
The Repeal the 8th anthology offers a range of thoughts and ideas from the pro-choice movement which can help further the understanding of socialist and feminist activists the world over. 

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