The best bits from our third opening meeting

Image courtesy of Trevor Emerson

Image courtesy of Trevor Emerson

June 29th will forever be remembered as the day the Westminster government agreed to fund abortions for Northern Irish women in England. But it also happened to be the date of our third open meeting.  

More than 200 people packed into a lecture hall at Queen Mary’s University, that balmy summer’s evening. Samantha Pinter-Thompson has pulled together some of the best bits.

It started with a round of applause:

Cara opened the meeting, noting that the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign has now amassed over 1000 members. She thanked everyone for their involvement - but gave a special shout out to Labour MP, Stella Creasy for her work on securing NHS funded abortions in England for women travelling from Northern Ireland. The crowd erupted in applause and rightly so. We’re hugely grateful to Stella and look forward to working with her more on this issue.  

Five speakers were then invited to address the audience, sharing their knowledge and experience of the fight for reproductive rights in Northern Ireland and the Republic.  

Who were they?

First up was Goretti Horgan, a founding member of Alliance for Choice Derry. She said the decision to fund abortions for Northern Irish women showed “that determined and consistent campaigning can make a difference” .

She acknowledged that this was a small step, but still worth celebrating. However, she noted that the victory was not enough in itself, as some women still face barriers to travel. She urged people to stay on the streets and campaign for decriminalisation.

Next up was Marian Larragy of the London-Irish Feminist Network. She recounted the history of Irish feminist groups in London from the 1960s onwards.

In particular Marian referred to the introduction of the Eighth Amendment as an “ambush” to put equality between the foetus and the woman in the Irish Constitution.  She then brought the story of pro-choice campaigns to the present, in which she raised the call for everyone to do their little bit to help the movement.

Mairead Enright, a member of Lawyers for Choice, was the third speaker of the night. She narrowed in on the Citizens’ Assembly, and what’s next for Irish law. She said she believed a referendum on the Eighth Amendment would be held in the spring of 2018, with legislation to follow.

The Citizens’ Assembly recommended that the Eighth be removed and replaced from the Constitution. It also clarified the role of the Oireachtas to legislate, which means the battle will likely be for what that legislation will be.

Mairead argued that any replacement of the Eighth must be minimalist and that legislation should then be focused on a reproductive framework that ensures positive guarantees of access. She said that abortion should be woman-centered, normalised and midwife led - taking stigma, fear and lack of information away.

Next up was Roisin Ingle, a journalist with The Irish Times. She discussed her personal reflections on sharing her abortion story last year, which she called “one of the best things I ever did”. She said she wanted to open up a conversation and show people that “abortion is normal, abortion is a reality, abortion is a fact of life”.

While she was initially apprehensive about sharing her experience, in the end the response was overwhelmingly positive. She received dozens of supportive emails from other women and was even stopped in the street by people saying “me too”.  

Roisin said that while people were still trying to find the words to have this conversation, the narrative was changing to one of empowerment and autonomy. 

She ended her speech by asserting that we are the majority and quoted poet Percy Bysshe Shelley: “Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number, shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you – ye are many, they are few.”

Last to speak was Colm O’Gorman, the Executive Director of Amnesty International-Ireland. “As an Irishman, I want to say how profoundly wrong I think it is that women have to stand up and talk about what should be a normal, private experience,” he told the crowd. He argued that Ireland was “ready to grow up” and that the country does not believe in the Eighth Amendment.

He pointed to Amnesty International polling which suggests that only 5% of Irish people are opposed to abortion in all circumstances. Unlike media coverage would suggest, he said that abortion was “not a controversial issue and we need to stop talking about it like it is”. While the poor standard of media coverage was a barrier going into the referendum, Colm said it was necessary to open up the conversation. He reminded the audience that “what we are looking for is right and normal and decent and generous and humane and compassionate”. He finished by saying be believed we could win the referendum and ensure Irish legislation respected and represented women, girls and pregnant people.

What have the working groups been up to?

LIARC now has six working groups. Members updated the crowd on what’s been going on behind the scenes.    

Images courtesy of Trevor Emerson

Images courtesy of Trevor Emerson

 

Lobbying has been busy organising meetings with MPs and has worked particularly closely with the Northern Ireland subgroup. Since the last open meeting the lobbying group has met with Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall to discuss both the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and the risk Brexit poses in allowing women to travel for abortion. Looking to the future, the group plans to write to new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, as well as lobbying the Oireachtas committee and the diaspora minister. They also intend to engage with the Irish diaspora further by liaising with the group Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad on the issue of diaspora disenfranchisement.

The Media/Comms team have been very busy bees. Since the last open meeting the campaign has received huge amounts of press attention, with pieces published in The Independent, The Guardian, Buzzfeed. The Irish Times, Marie Claire and many others. Our spokespeople have also taken part in interviews with the BBC, LBC, Good Morning Britain and several other outlets. In May, the team launched the LIARC blog, which has allowed them to publish original content online. The campaign’s social media accounts are growing in popularity every day. Next on the group’s agenda is to put together a media strategy for the upcoming referendum.

Fundraising’s biggest success to date has been the Stand Up for Choice comedy gig at the London Irish Centre, which raised over £7,000 for the Abortion Rights Campaign and the Abortion Support Network. The group has also secured spots for with Workers Beer Company, who run event bars. As a result our volunteers have been at numerous summer festivals, such as Glastonbury, pulling pints and donating their hourly wage to the campaign.

Direct Action have had several big moments in the last few months. In March, they secured a spot in London’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The theme ‘Stand in Awe of All Mna’ garnered huge support from the crowd. MPs Sian Berry and Emily Thornberry took part too. The group was also involved in a Westminster protest the day after the UK elections, in order to draw attention to abortion rights in Northern Ireland. In the future they plan on organising around key moments such as the anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act in October.

Our Legal group has only been in operation since March, but it has been very busy indeed. It now has 32 members ranging from barristers and solicitors to academics and legal students. The group defined their aims as; legal research - offering support to litigation, legal writing - sharing opinions around the legal community, generating ideas - potentially initiating new forms of litigation in Northern Ireland and generating initiatives in the Republic. Members have been working closely with the media and communications group, by sharing legal opinions on the LIARC blog. They also have an upcoming joint event with the Human Rights Lawyers Association about Northern Ireland and Abortion Rights on July 10.

Our Northern Ireland sub-group has been celebrating the campaign’s biggest success to date. They’d been working with Stella Creasy on her Queen’s Speech amendment – and described the government’s decision to fund abortions as an important milestone in the fight for full reproductive rights. The group has also been responding to the DUP/Tory coalition – and were invited to speak at an event organised by journalist Owen Jones at Downing Street. Member Caitlin de Jode’s blog on growing up in a safe DUP seat was picked up by several media outlets, including the Independent. Members will continue to work closely with other groups, to amplify the voices of Northern Irish women.

Channel 4 were there too:

After updates from working groups, a director and reporter from Channel 4’s Unreported World addressed the crowd. They are producing a documentary about abortion in Ireland, which they said would be a fact-based film. They were passionate in saying that “we want to do this justice,” and encouraged anyone who wanted to share their stories to get in touch. 

And finally…

The evening ended with Q&A session with all the speakers, who were joined by writer and comedian Tara Flynn and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC.

You can watch the whole thing back here

Hannah Little