'It's My Choice' public meeting in Cork

Date:

Monday night saw a packed attendance for the 'It's My Choice' meeting in the Metropole Hotel, Cork City. The meeting, billed as an explicitly pro-choice public event, featured three speakers, United Left Alliance TD, Clare Daly, UCC Law lecturer, Claire Murray, and Dr. Mary Favier of Doctors for Choice. Unfortunately, a fourth speaker, Rebecca Gomperts, an activist with the Women on Waves organisation, was unable to attend

In case there was any doubt over the reason for the meeting, the chair took care to clarify at the beginning that this was not a public debate over whether or not we are for or against abortion, but that this event was about informing people of the social, legal, political and medical context in which the movement for full abortion rights is to move forward.

It was encouraging to see this stated frankly at the start of the meeting, reflecting a determination that could be sensed throughout the room of the need to press on with this vital campaign.

The first speaker, Claire Murray, gave an overview of the current Irish and European legal framework around abortion and the relationship between European Court of Human Rights decisions and the Irish State.

She was followed by Clare Daly, who began by speaking of the absurdity of standing on a platform today, calling for the same reproductive rights she'd been involved in campaigning for 25 years ago in her student days. Her key points were on the need to push on with X-case legislation and for a repeal of the 8th amendment of the constitution, but that only a mass movement of people could ensure that these could be achieved. She finished by quoting from some emails she'd received recently from Irish women both here and in the USA, who spoke of their returned sense of power in taking to the streets over this issue again, determined to ensure that another generation doesn't go through the motions of the same old debate 25 years from now.

The final speaker was Dr. Mary Favier, founder member of Doctors for Choice, an alliance of medical professionals who formed 10 years ago to counter the dominance of male conservative 'expert' voices in the Irish abortion debate. Doctors for Choice advocate that abortion should be fully legalised and freely available as a confidential service from primary care-givers, i.e. that you should be able to go to a GP and get an abortion just like you'd get your tonsils or heartrate checked and that it's your private business, nobody elses.

This approach is based on the Canadian model, where specific legislation is not required for abortion; it should simply be decriminalised and regulated like any other professional medical practice.

The exasperating reality of Ireland's informal abortion export policy was clearly laid out by Dr. Favier. One in ten to fifteen Irish women have had an abortion, yet the stigma and taboo remain.

She stressed that the only way to really ensure a culture where women's rights to self-determination are respected is by speaking about our experiences of abortion in our everyday lives.

She also emphasised the class-based experience of abortion in Ireland, echoing Clare Daly's statement from earlier on that it's not abortions that will drive up maternity fatality rates, it's health cuts and the debilitating effects of austerity.

The importance of a clear and uncompromising pro-choice position is the only way that full abortion rights can be ensured for all women in Ireland, regardless of class or citizenship status.

After the speakers were finished, the remainder of the meeting was given over to discussion. There were many moving comments from the floor. There were also attempts from a few Alive! subscribers to disrupt the evening and insult the speakers and the rest of the audience. These were handled as best they could by the chair and other organisers, who were not in the business of organising a debate over the sanctity of cells in a womb, but a campaign meeting for attaining abortion rights.

While a minor run-in between one audience member and some drops of holy water was the focus of the meeting's coverage in the Evening Echo, the real substance of the discussion was on the need to build this campaign. For the most part, contributions from the floor were decisive in the need to press on with this matter, and we should expect to see more people actively mobilising with the Cork Pro-Choice Alliance in the coming months.

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