On Saturday saw an estimate of fifteen thousand to seventeen thousand people marching in Dublin from the Garden of Remembrance to the Daíl in solidarity with Savita Halappanavar's family and for abortion rights. Savita Halappanavar was a woman in Galway who had died after being refused an abortion.
The march opened with a speech from Ruth Coppinger from the United Left Alliance, who spoke about motion that was tabled in April to legislate for X, but said that legislating for X is not enough, as no woman should have to be put through pain and agony in order to receive a life saving abortion. She also noted that the cases of rape and incest should also be grounds for abortion, when considering the X case.
This speech was followed fittingly by a poem called “The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks” , which is critical of the religious and social establishment. This was performed by the poet herself, Paula Meehan.
The atmosphere of the march was mournful, but also angry at the situation, as a result of successive government's inaction to legislate for X. One pro-lifer stood on O'Connell Street shouting through his megaphone, which seemed for many inexcusable, as this was a march to remember Savita who had died due to their insistence of protecting laws which caused her death. For many attendees this was an emotional march and his presence showed an absolute disregard to the situation at hand.
A number of protests were organised on the same day not only nationally, but also internationally, including a number of cities in Savita's homeland of India to mark this tragedy.
The march ended at Merrion Square behind the Daíl, the same location where the last major protest in September ended, but with a much larger crowd. Several members of the crowd held candles or pictures of Savita as part of the vigil at the end of the march. A co-ordinated minute silence was organised at twenty past five with many of the rallies globally in memory of Savita.
A number of speeches were made highlighting the government inaction to legislate for X, which has resulted in the death of this woman, but also crucially that X is not enough, that women need a right to choose.
Ann Rossiter highlighted this in her speech. She is an elderly woman in her seventies and a member of the Abortion Support Network, who lives in London. She has opened up her home for the last thirty years to women who travel over from Ireland to Britain to receive an abortion. She has been involved with Choice activism for over forty years and has been holding out for all this time for Ireland to finally change their laws. Most of these women who stay with Ann, are women whose crisis pregnancy will not fall under the X case legislation and will continue to make that lonely journey abroad to get a medical procedure which is offered in nearly every developed country.
Her husband, Gautam Appa who is also Indian spoke about the response from the Indian community and talked about the experiences he had of the women who came over from Ireland to have an abortion. His speech turned polemic, when he stated that every town in India has had a rally on Savita's behalf, a feat only the British achieved, when India demanded their independence. A statement, which was certainly a blow to many people's national pride.
Clare Daly's speech was probably one of the most powerful speeches ever heard at a rally, as she spoke about the seeming inevitability of this event, when the motion to legislate for X was not passed in April and that Savita died due to political cowardice of successive governments. She further stated that Ireland cannot wait another twenty years for a tragedy like the X case or Savita to happen again in order for abortion rights to come back on the agenda and that legislation needs to be put in place. She emphasised the need to remove the eighth amendment and most importantly the pressure needs to be kept up until legislation is put in place to prevent these tragedies from happening again.
A point brought up by Goretti Hogan from the Socialist Worker's Parties, which was also stressed by Clare and the issue of austerity measures and how this affects the ability to choose. Firstly, how women are now more and more unable to pay to have an abortion abroad and so are forced to continue with the pregnancy, but also due to cutbacks women are forced to have an abortion, as many of them are already mothers who would like to have another child but cannot afford to.
Savita Halappanavar's case has shaken the whole country and now many people are calling to legislate for X. It has been argued that if legislation for X existed, this woman would not have died. But is this really case?
It is not necessarily clear if Savita would have had access to abortion, as there has to be “clear and immediate threat to the mother's life and health”, while there was a threat to the mother's life and health, but would it be considered “clear and immediate” if a case like hers were to come up again in the future.
Legislating for X is in itself is not enough. Most women who choose to have abortion are not faced with life threatening abortion. In Ireland many women are left to either go abroad, which many cannot afford. Every day 13 women make that lonely journey across the border to get this medical procedure. There are those, such as migrant women who are not allowed to cross the borders in order to access abortion and so are forced to carry out their pregnancy or may try to throw themselves down stairs so it will induce a miscarriage or if they are able to afford it with their €19.10 per week buy abortion pills online.
In Ireland has come it come to a stage where women have to in secret buy abortion pills? And that a women needs to die in order to get a narrow grounds for abortion? It is disgraceful, that a country feels the need to dictate what a woman can do with her body and not give her the autonomy to decide what is best for her.
The expert group report looks to be published at the end of the month and Sinn Féin are going to be tabling a motion to legislate for X, but this discussion on the X case has become relentless. What we need is abortion is free, legal and on demand.
A rally for abortion rights will be held in front of the Daíl this Wednesday at 6pm.
Below are two videos WSM members took of the march, you will also find an album of 84 images from the march in our Facebook account.