Despite huge spend anti-choice demo attracts only a couple of thousand


Something in the region of 2000 people who demand that women in Ireland should have to carry to term unwanted pregnancies in any situation organised a demonstration at the Dail this evening. They were trying to prevent the government legislating for abortion in the very limited circumstances of the X-Case - some 20 years after the Supreme court told them such legislation was required.

Tonights demonstration seems to have united all factions of the anti-choice movement with speakers from both Youth Defence and the Pro Life Campaign. This in itself reveals how paniced they are over the public outrage following the death of Savita after she was denied an abortion in a Galway hospital. The semi spontaneous protests that followed saw well over 25,000 take to the street, over 15,000 on a single demonstration in Dublin alone.  A weekend opinion poll showed 85% want X-Case legislation enacted leaving the bigots with a tiny but scary 15% of the population who would sooner see women die than allow abortion.

The organisers of Rally for Life have to be disappointed with the turnout although they ware trying to big it up on twitter and in some cases - step forward Youth Defence - making outlandish claims as to numbers. For the record @Oceanclub was keeping track on estimates and tweeted "Gardai: 1,000. RTE: 4,000. Pro Life Campaign: 8,000. Youth Defence: 10,000". Our 2,000 we note being twice the Garda estimate which is normal enough). Their own video shows Molesworth street half empty and that the crowd had been spaced out into widely separated rows. (Update: After this piece was published I went on to do a head by head count from that video coming up with a figure of just over 1000).

Not only did they have weeks to organise this response to the outrage over Savitas death at the hands of their law they have astronomical resources in comparison with the pro-choice movement. Youth Defence won't be revealing what they spent (or indeed where that money came from) but right wing blogger John McGurk rather foolishly tweeted during an argument about numbers that "Over 2k came to the #vigil4life by chartered bus". It depends on where those coaches were coming from but there is no way that cost less that 40,000. A huge speakers platform had been erected and there was a very expensive looking cube of giant plasma screens taking up another chunk of the street. It seems unlikely we could be looking at a spend of less that 60,000 euro on this single event and perhaps a lot, lot more.

By contrast there was a somewhat larger pro-choice march organised back in September. I was involved in the organisation of it and aware of us spending in the region of 200 euro at most, 1000 euro (once 800 spent on posters and paid for by a comedy fundraiser is added) basically people buying needed items from their own pockets and seeking reimbursement from the collection afterwards. The difference between these two figures tells the story of the David V Goliath battle between those who are fighting for and against women's rights. Youth Defence and co spent 30 euro or perhaps much more per person mobilised tonight, we spent perhaps 10 33 cent, a difference of 1000%.

The difference goes beyond demonstration budgets. While the pro-choice march and the later demonstrations for Savita were indeed organised they were done so in a very ad hoc manner that left little room for the elaborate choreography and staged photos of the anti-choice movement. All the pro-choice demonstrations were characterised by hordes of people turning up in their one's or two's or as a group of friends with their own hand made placards with all sorts of weird and wonderful messages. Tonight's anti-choice demonstration though was one where people were told not to bring their own placards as mass produced (and no doubt carefully messaged) ones would be provided. Contingents were bused in from around the country and assembled into choreographed photos where the old and the bewildered kids were hidden with the priests behind a narrow layer of women of child bearing age assembled for the photo-op. And still as the photo of the religious figure with the cross shows the stage management slipped at times to allow a glimpse of real motivations. Not only are two very different Ireland's represented but so too are two very different way of doing politics.

The death of Savita probably means that the X-case will finally be legislated for. The political parties that thought they could delay legislation with yet more reports now seem shamed into introducing legislation in the New Year. If the anti-choice movement fail to block this legislation it will be a minor but significant step forwards but it is nothing like what is needed. The question for the pro-choice movement is can we, in the short term, generate the sort of movement and action that can bring an end to the states attempt to control women's bodies. 

IMAGE: Gavinsblog WORDS: @Andrew Flood

Photo slideshow below from Paul Reynolds via flickr, his account of the protest written for Rabble is interesting