Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Dublin today in a demonstration against the country's restrictive abortion law, which criminalizes terminations — even in cases involving rape, incest, or fatal fetal abnormality.
The "March for Choice" followed a route through the city center of the Irish capital, and saw many women and men pulling suitcases behind them, a gesture meant to symbolize the estimated 10 to 12 women who travel to the UK each day for abortions.
The marchers called for the repeal of the Irish Constitution's eighth amendment — introduced in 1983 — which says that an unborn child's right to life is equal to that of its mother.
A "solidarity" event was also held in London.
In recent weeks, high-profile Irish women, including Irish Times columnist Roisin Ingle and comedian Tara Flynn, have gone public about their abortions, provoking debate across the country and ensuring that the issue will remain a heated topic of discussion in the run up to next year's general election.
"Having a baby that first time would not have been best for me," Ingle wrote. "I have not had one scrap of regret or shame about what I did."
Aodhan O Riordain, minister of state at Ireland's Department of Justice and Equality, has said the prospect of holding a successful referendum to change the Irish Constitution is unlikely in the short term, and that it would be a number of years before it had a chance of going ahead.
"If it happened in the morning it would be lost and it would be trounced and it would be 20 years before we can return to it," O Riordain said. "But it'll happen, I would imagine, quite late towards the end of the [next] government because we're nowhere near winning it."
Meanwhile, Niamh Ui Bhriain from the Life Institute lobby group, which helps organize an annual "Rally for Life" counter-demonstration, told VICE News, "The current abortion push is almost entirely media driven and hyped. There is no public demand for another referendum on abortion; it's not a priority for people."
She added that, "Everyone has the right to make a contribution to this debate. It's a shame, however, that the media ignore the voices of the women who regret their abortion."
A poll taken earlier this month found more than a quarter of Irish citizens say the abortion question will be a deciding factor in how they vote in the 2016 general election.
In June, Amnesty International accused Ireland of failing to fulfil its international obligations under human rights law because of the prohibitions on terminations. Restrictive abortion laws "violate women's and girls' rights to life, health, privacy, non-discrimination, and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment," the human rights group said in a report.
The report also pointed to high-profile cases, such as the tragic death of Indian-born dentist Savita Halappanavar on October 28, 2012. Though there was a clear threat to her life and she was already suffering a miscarriage, Halappanavar was told by a doctor that the Galway hospital couldn't perform an abortion because "under Irish law, if there's no evidence of risk to the life of the mother, our hands are tied so long as there's a fetal heart[beat]."
This summer, VICE News spoke to women who travelled to the UK after discovering their unborn babies had fatal abnormalities and would not survive outside the womb. They detailed the difficulty and expense of traveling, and described how the journey hindered the mourning process. Some received the ashes from their cremated fetuses in the mail weeks after the terminations.
At the same time, a spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service — one of the main UK abortion providers for Irish women — told VICE News that no Irish politician has ever visited one of their clinics.
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd
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