My daughters and I were on the March For Choice in Dublin yesterday. Us, and about 10,000 other people, marching – again – for the right to bodily integrity; the right to make decisions about our own bodies. There is always great camaraderie on these marches, but each of us there hopes we’ll never have to march again. We hope that each time we march, it will be the last. So far, we have hoped in vain.
Growing up female, in Ireland, I was taught young that my body did not belong to me.
My first memory is of being three years and one month old, and being carried up an old creaking stairs to be sexually abused. I can see myself, in my mind’s eye; small and chubby-cheeked, green eyes that had already seen more than they should have, dark blonde curls bouncing on the journey. And knowing, knowing with all my being, what was coming next. Because this was not the first time this scene had played out. Nor would it be the last. Not by a long, long shot.
I did not own my body as a baby, a toddler, a child, a teenager, or a young adult in Ireland. Now, in my forties, I still don’t own my body. Now, as then, my body is regulated – not by me – but by men who claim to have my best interests at heart. Men who claim to know more about my body and what it ‘should’ be ‘allowed’ to do than I do. Men who claim that they should decide what my body (and mind) must endure.
The priest who told me, when I was a teenager and finally broke my silence, that ‘boys will be boys’. The doctor (a paediatrician, no less) who was more worried about scandal in the village should I get pregnant, than about the scandal that I should even be at risk of getting pregnant. The doctor (a psychiatrist, no less) who told one of my abusers to abuse me with ‘more sensitivity’, more worried about the stigma of a broken family than the damage to my broken mind.
These people still exist. They are still active in my life and those of my young daughters. Oh! Their names and faces have changed, but their attitudes have not. The men (and, to be fair, women) who felt they had the right to decide what happened to my body are still active in Irish society. They are the people who aver that I do not have the right to decide who can touch my body and when – that should I decide I need to be touched by caring professionals in order to end the anguish of an unwanted pregnancy, I am not allowed. They are the people who feel that their wants, wishes, desires, beliefs and mores should be mine.
Make no mistake, this is gendered abuse in the same way as being sexually violated on an almost nightly basis was gendered abuse. The damage that the Eighth Amendment does to women is just as awful, just as gruesome, just as real. The message is the same – you, as a female in Ireland, do not own your body. You never will.
I am pro-choice. Not because I would ever choose to have an abortion (even when – as a young teenager – I thought I was pregnant with a rapist’s baby, did I consider abortion), but because I do not have the right to tell any woman that she does not have that right.
If you need an abortion, I support your right to access a free, safe, legal one. If you need an abortion, I support your right to have that decision respected. If you need an abortion, I support you. I will fight for your right to have that abortion in Ireland. I will fight for your right to be treated with dignity and respect as you undergo the procedure, and afterwards. If you need an abortion, I support you in any and every way I can. You deserve that because you are a woman. You are a human. Until it can survive outside your womb, what you hold inside it, is not. The contents of your womb are not worth more to me than you are. They are not worth as much. Your choices matter. Your decisions matter. Your rights matter. Your body matters. You matter.
Until the Eighth Amendment is repealed, however, Irish law will not recognise that fact. Until the Eighth Amendment is repealed, as a female in Ireland, your body will not belong to you. It’s time to change this. It’s time to stop telling our women they worth less than our men. It’s time to stop telling our daughters that they are worth less than our sons. It’s time to stop the misery that gendered violence brings.