Students were among the 30,000 protesters taking part in today’s 6th annual March For Choice, calling for the repeal of the eighth amendment ahead of the abortion referendum scheduled for next May or June.
Speaking to Trinity News prior to the march, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Kevin Keane reflected on the significance of the march, saying it was “our last opportunity to gather as a movement before the referendum”.
The official march was organised by the Abortion Rights campaign, who announced a 1:30pm meeting time outside the Garden of Remembrance. However, the Union of Students Ireland (USI) organised for student organisations across the country to gather at 12:30pm in the Front Square of Trinity.
Clutching a megaphone, Keane addressed the crowd in Front Square. He described the crowd’s presence as a “statement that the students of Ireland will not stand idly by as our rights are abused”. He noted the significance of Trinity campus as a starting point, as it was here in 1989 that Senator Ivanna Bacik was threatened with jail by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) for providing abortion information to students. “She led the fight against an unjust law then, just like we need to do now.”
The USI-led march left Front Square at 1:20pm to meet the rest of the marchers near the Garden of Remembrance. The official march started down O’Connell Street at around 2:00pm, passing notable landmarks for the campaign along the route, such as Irish Family Planning Association head office on Pearse Street, and National Maternity Hospital on Merrion Square.
Participants were seen brandishing signs echoing the sentiments of the march’s official slogan: Time to Act. “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” and “Girls just want to have fundamental human rights” were popular slogans, while chants of “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate” reverberated through the streets.
Upon reaching the Dáil, the last stop of the march, the crowd was met by a stage and were welcomed by comedian and actor Tara Flynn, who acted as MC of the event.
First to speak were Caoimhe Doyle and Angela Corracio of the Abortion Rights Campaign. Corracio stated that the eighth amendment “is an instrument of control over women’s bodies. It affects every single pregnancy in Ireland […]”.
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, the Irish civil rights leader and former independent politician, also addressed the crowd, stating: “We need to be clear, especially from the experience of those of us in the North […] that as we face Brexit, and as we face the repeal of the eighth amendment, Article 2 and 3 of the constitution would have come in handy – but you threw it away.”
Among the rest of the speakers were poet and trans rights activist Matt Kennedy, Kate McGrew of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, representatives from Migrant and Ethnic-Minorities for Reproductive Justice (MERJ) and British Labour MP Stella Creasy.
Gerry and Gaye Edwards of Terminations for Medical Reasons were also among the speakers present outside the Dáil. Due to abortion restrictions, in 2016 Gerry Edwards had to carry a pregnancy to term despite knowing that the baby would be stillborn.
Since February 2014, TCDSU have been mandated to support the repeal of the eighth amendment, when 73% of students voted for TCDSU to adopt a pro-choice mandate and actively campaign for access to safe and legal abortions for women and girls in Ireland.
A number of University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) officers were present at the march. Their President Katie Ascough has been criticised for the retraction of abortion information from the college’s Student Union handbook and faces possible impeachment. Speaking to Trinity News about her absence, Campaign and Communications Officer Barry Murphy stated that Ascough is under no order to be present at such events outside the union’s working week: “You wouldn’t expect somebody who has campaigned so passionately over the last number of years on the pro-life side to suddenly come to a pro-choice rally or march. […] It hasn’t hampered our presence here, if anything, Katie’s absence has outraged more people and we’re trying to get them to direct their passion and anger at the march rather than her directly.”
The March for Choice, which was matched by 20 similar marches around the world today, is not the only pro-choice demonstration to take place in recent months. The Strike 4 Repeal demonstration, which occurred in March, saw an estimated 3,000 students take to the streets, among them approximately 300 Trinity students.
A month after Strike 4 Repeal, 64% of the Citizen’s Assembly, a group of citizens gathered to discuss a number of issues, voted to endorse legal access to abortion in all circumstances. While the purpose of the Assembly has been questioned and criticised by some, their vote to support legalising abortion was seen by many as a significant boost to the repeal campaign.
Additional reporting by Niamh Moriarty, Stacy Wrenn and Jack Fuhrman.