It’s the 8th of March. This day is important. This month is also important; after all, March brings with it St. Patrick’s Day. Or Paddy’s Day, if you prefer. Not Patty. Never Patty. Patty is a girl’s name, or what you call burger meat, or, apparently, an item of food covered in dough or batter. I can’t explain the full-body cringe I experience when somebody calls it Patty’s Day.
March always sweeps in a deep love of everything Irish, all things green and shamrock-shaped. Anyone with even a drop of Irish blood to their name puffs out their chest with pride and loudly proclaims their heritage as if they had traveled back in time and handpicked their ancestors themselves. Landmarks across the world turn green in solidarity, and there are drunken parades in hundreds of cities. It’s really quite heartwarming to see how many people across the globe identify with the Irish.
And why wouldn’t they? There are so many great things about Ireland. So many. The landscape, the people, the batter burgers, the pubs, the music, the slice of Ray’s pizza after a night out in Dublin, the banter, the brunch options, the architecture, the history… I could go on and on. Today though, I’m not going to talk about any of that. Today I want to talk about something important that doesn’t cast Ireland in the best light, to say the least.
[Sidenote: They say you should never talk about politics, sex or religion. Since I’ve already discussed politics, and I’ve already talked (about not talking) about sex… consider this post hitting the trifecta. This post contains a smattering of all three.]
Ireland is sometimes called ‘the land of saints and scholars’ because of its long history of catholicism and lyrical storytelling. When most of the country gained its independence it was a poor fledgling state, and the Catholic Church stepped in to help in much the same way as that sketchy sober guy in the corner who’s been watching your friend get plastered appears at her elbow at the end of the night when she can barely stand and graciously offers to “bring her home.”
The Catholic Church went about inserting itself into every facet of society. Churches popped up everywhere, dividing the country into little parishes that formed communities. They poured money into the education system, starting many catholic-run schools. They helped a struggling country to get on its feet.
At the same time though, they imposed their values on the country. Through a brutally tight interlocking of church and state, we ended up with a country that punished women for their sexuality; unmarried women who got pregnant were sent to Magdalene Laundries run by orders of nuns, where they delivered their babies (who were taken away from them and sold) and entered into a form of indentured slavery. Some lived there until they died. The last Magdalene Laundry only closed in 1996.
This past week a report came out about the bodies of 796 babies, ranging in age from 35 weeks to 2 or 3 years old, that have been found in what used to be a septic tank in the grounds of one of these laundries in Tuam. It seems many, many babies sickened, died, and were then placed in this septic tank and erased from the narrative. As they were ‘children of sin,’ their lives were almost disposable. At the moment it is unclear if this horror is an anomaly, or a systematic practice that took place at other laundries.
Imagine the eye-watering hypocrisy of decrying contraception and abortion as the pinnacle of sin, while placing little to no value on the lives of unmarried women and their babies once they were born.
As recently as 1984 – two years before I was born – a 15 year old schoolgirl named Ann Lovett got pregnant and – with no options available to her – tried to deliver her baby by herself in the Virgin Mary’s Grotto behind the church in her village. She was in her school uniform. She carried a pair of scissors in her schoolbag to cut the umbilical cord. She bled out and her baby died of hypothermia there on the cold hard ground as the statue of Mary looked on in bland indifference.
Less than five years ago, a woman named Savita Halappanavar died an entirely preventable death when the doctors were unable to terminate the septic pregnancy that was killing her thanks to the 8th amendment of our constitution. The 8th amendment was brought in on the 17th February 1992, and states that the the unborn has just as much of a right to life as the mother. This has resulted in cases such as the X Case, where a 14 year old girl who had been raped was prevented from travelling to England for an abortion, despite being deemed a suicide risk. Abortion is completely illegal in Ireland.
Every day, approximately ten Irish women travel to England for an abortion.
I know and understand the reasons that people are pro-life. I respect them. If you are pro-life, that is your prerogative.
What I cannot understand is that my life, with all of its intricacies – my memories, my hopes, my hobbies, my relationships, my experiences – is considered equal to that of an unborn baby. I cannot understand that my life, half-lived, is only considered as important as that of a fertilised egg, and that that is enshrined in the Irish constitution.
Typing all of this has been heartwrenching. Thinking about the way that my country, which I love, has treated women in the recent past hurts. It twists something inside me to think that if I had been born even fifty years earlier, I could have been a Magdalene. I could have been an Ann Lovett. I might have been young and in love and unlucky. Even now, I could be young and in love and unlucky. Even now, I could be Savita.
Today is the 8th of March.
Today we strike for repeal of the 8th amendment.