We protest Trump – we must support Irish women

I haven’t heard the reproductive rights of Irish students discussed once.

abortion abortion rights Cambridge Donald Trump Feminism ireland northern ireland repeal the 8th women's rights

Donald Trump. Mad man, yeah? Crazy lad, altogether. He’s building walls, he’s being racist, he has a fucking odd attitude towards his own daughter. . . and he wants to make abortion illegal.

What’s more, he, unlike most “pro-life” groups, supports punishing women who procure an illegal abortion. So people are angry. Rightfully angry. For anyone who believes in a woman’s right to have control over what happens within her own body Trump and his vocal supporters indicate a bad time coming.

But what about the bad time that’s already here? Women in Ireland and Northern Ireland are currently living under laws prohibiting abortion. An unplanned pregnancy in Cork or Coleraine has a vastly different outcome than one in Cambridge. Yet these three are all University towns. They all have young female citizens, young students at very similar places in their lives. Students who might easily find themselves pregnant. Let’s just consider what would happen if they did, and decided to seek an abortion.

The Cambridge student has access to an NHS website which refers to GP visits and Family Planning Clinics. At the bottom of the page it offers links to counseling services. These doctors’ appointments can take place in Cambridge, where the student studies and where she, hopefully, has a strong support network. All of this is legal.

The Irish students, however, are living in states where they no longer have control over their own bodies. They must either travel to a state where they do, or privately import pills which will give them that control. Travel is expensive and stressful, doubly so if coming from a rural area, but it’s legal. Abortion pills are illegal. They may be confiscated coming in the post. If the student is found out, she might be prosecuted.

As an Irish citizen, but an English student I would have relatively easy access to abortion. A female friend with the exact same passport, but resident in Ireland has immense difficulties. A UK passport holder can legally take certain pills in London – the exact same pills, taken by the exact same passport holder can result in prosecution if taken in Belfast. It’s a postcode lottery, and it’s disgusting.

twirl the globe there and show us where I can maybe possibly choose what happens with my body

This is happening now. It’s happening right next door. Ireland and England have a lengthy shared history. Most Irish families I know have someone living in England – most English people I’ve met have an Irish relative somewhere. Our societies are intertwined, surely this should be a topic on everyone’s lips? Feminist societies have a huge presence on UK campuses, but in Cambridge at least, I haven’t heard the reproductive rights of students across the water discussed once.

I’m guilty here too, I haven’t brought it up. In ways, of course, it’s a difficult topic. Talking to friends studying in Dublin, for all those who were vocally and unapologetically in support of legalizing abortion there were others more hesitant, more uncomfortable. They believe in a woman’s autonomy, but there’s an inherent resistance within them at being seen to “support” abortion.

And I know why. Sure, I sat next to these girls in class. I was there when our Civics teacher described “cutting up babies” when three consecutive Religion classes were spent watching a graphic, bloody film of an abortion procedure.  These things stick in the mind, in particular because they constituted the entirety of the information given on unplanned pregnancy. But it’s not good enough for us to waver between a woman’s right to choose, and the realities that choice entails. It’s not good enough to continue to tacitly support the fact that thousands travel to England to undergo a procedure illegal at home.

Dublin protest calling for abortion rights

In Ireland at the moment there are strong, vocal campaigns to call a referendum on abortion. I have so much respect for the people who have pushed the issue, who have marched and signed petitions. It means it’s talked about in Ireland now – it’s talked about all the time. It’s been dragged to the attention of people like myself who for too long let it slide past as a vaguely distasteful subject.

English students have a responsibility to lend equally vocal support to this campaign. If we believe in a woman’s autonomy, in her right to choose, then we should be supporting this. It’s a feminist issue. It’s a human rights issue. In short, it’s a solidarity issue – and we need to show some.

The conditions Trump wants to introduce are bad. What’s worse is that there are already thousands of women living under those conditions, just the other side of the Irish Sea