As news broke that a referendum on the 8th amendment had finally been confirmed for next year, thousands celebrated the advancement in a long-running campaign to repeal the hugely contentious law.
But who are the people driving the campaign? What compels them to work free of charge? And what obstacles do they face when demanding change for the women of Ireland?
We sat down with Abortion Rights Campaign volunteer, Sarah Monaghan, to get an insight into the work that goes into pushing one of the biggest political movements of recent times.
As Partnerships and Outreach Rep for ARC, Sarah is responsible for liaising with the organisation's multiple Regional Groups as well as other affiliated groups around the country, but how did she go from attending the March for Choice in 2013 to taking an active role in the campaign?
“When the story of Miss Y – an asylum seeker, raped in her home country and seeking an abortion in Ireland under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 – broke I was horrified,” she recalls.
“Miss Y sought an abortion on the grounds of being suicidal, the panel delayed her case to the point of gestation that she was no longer eligible. As an asylum seeker, she was unable to travel to the UK for an abortion under her Visa. She went on hunger strike, was forcibly hydrated, before undergoing a caesarean section against her will.”
“This case disgusted me to the point that I could no longer be passive, attending a march once a year was not enough. Things in this country needed to change and joining ARC was my first step in helping with this,” Sarah explains.
Over the course of recent years, Sarah has seen a shift in societal attitudes, saying: “When I became involved three years ago I encountered a lot more direct criticism than now. The fact is the majority of people in Ireland are now pro-choice so instances of being called a murderer have lessened drastically.”
Despite the aforementioned shift, the pro-choice campaign still bears the brunt of criticism regarding the delivery of their message.
Acknowledging this perception, Sarah says: “We’re told we’re too angry, we’re too shrill.”
“[But] as someone who has been involved in the hard work of enacting change, faced with a Government who has repeatedly stalled a referendum and allowed countless people to travel for medical care and disregarded those who are unable to travel, I am angry. And you should be too.”
Sarah’s role affords her an insight into the lived experience of women who have been affected by the 8th Amendment – stories which continue to fuel her desire for change.
“In the beginning, I was certainly shocked by the stories of those affected by the 8th Amendment. I also learned how the 8th effects so many aspects of reproductive care and women’s rights in Ireland. After three years, I am not particularly surprised, rather, I am often upset and furious that this is still ongoing,” she explains.
With a referendum scheduled for 2018, Sarah highlights the illogicality of the government’s decision to delay it for so long, reminding us: “It has been 34 years since people in Ireland had the opportunity to vote on the 8th Amendment.”
“No-one who voted in that referendum is currently of child bearing age. Those who it directly affects have never been afforded the respect to vote for a change that will save lives and bring us in line with International norms for Reproductive Rights.”
With the March For Choice taking place in Dublin city centre this Saturday, the majority of attention is focussed on the Irish capital, but having worked directly with Regional Groups, Sarah has borne witness to the ardent campaigning which takes place around the entire country.
“Being involved in activism in Dublin has its challenges; being involved in a pro-choice campaign in rural areas is an entirely different story,” she explains.
“Those involved are some of the bravest and fiercest people I have ever met. They are constantly met with obstacles such as lack of public transport, lack of supportive venues and often having your opposition being your next door neighbour!”
“On the day of Strike for Repeal thousands of people marched in Dublin. In Skibereen, 11 people marched down main street," she reveals. "That takes amazing dedication and daring.”
— Abortion Rights IE (@freesafelegal) July 17, 2017
Back in 2013, Sarah attended a march organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign, four years on she plays a vital role in the execution of many of the organisation’s events.
If you too want to make the leap, Sarah insists that everyone has a place.
Whether you are creative and want to join Actions, interested in social media, want to work with Allied groups, interested in hosting fundraising events, or would prefer to work in the background in the organisation's admin group, Sarah says: “There is no one way to be a member of ARC."
"We crucially need more help in every single area, no matter how much or how little time you can afford to give,” she urges. “This will be an incredibly important year, get involved and tell future generations you fought for their rights. “