Country: Ireland

Ruth Riddick

Reproductive rights activist, educator, and former pregnancy counseling service provider; awarded a freedom-of-information judgment against Ireland at the European Court of Human Rights (Open Door Counselling, 1992)

“Your husband will decide how many children you have.” My mother’s voice was authoritative. She would not be entertaining an argu­ment. And what did I know anyway? Twelve years old and ignorant as the day is long. My sex education was yet to come—and not from home or school. (more…)

City:

Ailbhe Smyth

Former head of the Department for Women’s Studies at University College, Dublin 

I’ve been prochoice for over 40 years, spanning most of my adult life. I couldn’t say at what particular moment I decided to nail my colors to the mast, although I know only too well that for most of that time, the deci­sion has put me at odds with the estab­lishment in all its multifarious forms. Campaigning for the right to abortion in Ireland was considered an act of radical defiance by all the elites, whether clerical (the power of the Catholic church only began to wane in the early 1990s), political, professional or academic. Not a very comfortable position for a young woman academic from a middle-class Catholic family. To be a known “abor­tionist” (the term was applied indiscrim­inately and quite improperly to prochoice activists) was seen in some bizarre, convoluted way as a betrayal not only of one’s class, but of the very nation itself. And it was certainly not a sensible route to a successful career in a university environment then still heavily marked by clericalism.

But you do what you must. In my case, as part of the burgeoning women’s lib­eration movement, I believed (as I still do, most ardently) that control of our reproductive bodies is a baseline require­ment for equality and autonomy. I believe that a woman has the right to decide whether or when she will have a child. In a world where there is often still inade­quate or no information about, or access to, contraception, and where contracep­tion can and does fail; where sex educa­tion may be minimal or nonexistent; where social and economic conditions are atrocious (increasingly so); where women are impregnated by men against their will; and where, by no means least, mistakes quite simply happen, abortion is a necessity and a reality for countless numbers of women, not an abstract phil­osophical or moral issue.

Way back then, 40 years ago, I saw young women like me being forced either to go through with pregnancies they didn’t choose, or having to make the lonely journey to the UK for an abortion. I knew I’d go to the UK myself if I had an unplanned pregnancy. I saw the misery and difficulty and the pain. I hated a society and a value system that forced women to give birth against their will. I thought it was wrong and that it should be changed. So I suppose my decision was both intensely personal and acutely political.

Things have a shifted in Ireland since then, but not much. We’ve had a refer­endum on the issue roughly every decade since 1983 and seem set to have another in the near future. We have a law pro­tecting women’s lives in pregnancy (but only just, and only maybe), and it is at least easier now to say “I’m prochoice: I stand for every woman’s right to have an abortion if that’s what she considers to be in her best interests.” But there’s still a long way to go.

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Catholics for Choice