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(en) WSM.ie, Ireland, Ulster, Alliance for Choice, Pro-choice - Mass Civil Disobedience in North Illuminates Role Of States In Abortion Discussion by Mark Malone

Date Wed, 13 Mar 2013 13:48:55 +0200


In an act of mass civil disobedience directly challenging the legitimacy of the state to regulate women’s reproduction against their own will, over 100 people in Northern Ireland under the banner Alliance for Choice have signed an open letter declaring they have taken, or supported others to take, a pill to induce an abortion. ---- The political action is designed to coincide with a vote in Stormont tomorrow that, if passed, would make it illegal for women to receive abortions in private clinics in the north. The proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill is being pushed by fundamentalists within what’s traditionally described as “both communities.” The proposal to change the law was tabled by the DUP’s Paul Givan, who chairs the Stormont Justice committee, and the SDLP’s Alban Maginness both of whom will never get pregnant. The Alliance party and Sinn Fein will oppose the amendment.

The act of civil disobedience itself is interesting from many perspectives, not least the way in which a coherent analysis within the letter makes apparent the links between women’s reproductive autonomy and the social/political policies of austerity that function to increase poverty and social inequality within national borders. That analysis is shared by the Pro Choice movements in the south.

Its also throws into stark relief one of the ambiguities of public discussion around abortion in the south. Whilst looking northwards, mainstream media seems to have little problem in conflating religious, social and political perspectives with the function of the state itself. Its one I and other anarchist share, and the contested nature of political identity and structural oppressions that gave rise to both to the civil rights movements as well as the provos make help illuminate that. That the state itself is an ideological entity is a given and assumed, even as the workplace practices of contemporary journalism give little reward or encourage for this to be untangled and explored. Neither is the tactic of civil disobedience in examined beyond the word ‘protest’.

For example this act of civil disobedience forces the northern state – via its police force and criminal justice system - to act or not act in a public fashion. The political act of disobedience is calculated to illuminate and educate about unjust structures of social/political/economic power as well as forcing the state to act in ways that regardless of the specifics, all actors know the state will itself be judged upon by the wider public.

However when looking closer to home, this Irish state seems to be continually framed – and likes to present itself as – ideologically neutral, as if it were a paternal independent arbitrator between two opposing positions. But this self image is patently false and can only be sustained under a social imagination that separates out abortion from the state’s historical role in the systemic abuse of women. But that’s simply not tenable to an increasingly political literate population, nor is it to the growing feminist movements on the island. The state is patriarchal in so far it has continually reproduced social conditions of inequality against women.

The Catholic Church has seen a massive diminishing of it social power, a direct result of the breaking of silence surrounding the systemic brutality that enforced its cultural weight in Irish society. Its “socially conservative” (read deformed, sexually repressive and violent) dogmatism, simultaneously anti-women, anti-homosexuality, is being challenged by an increasingly counter-hegemonic discourse. Woman in the pro choice movements are no longing pleading for control over their own bodies from a church and state nexus which have previously deemed itself the only legitimate authority that can dispense or renege on that autonomy. Many are, quite sensibly, demanding complete autonomy for themselves and each other.

Also the narrative that ‘abortion debate’ revolves around two opposing yet valid abstract moral positions is itself a mispresentation. There is no emotional or intellectual equivalency between the positions of “I dont want to be forced to remain pregnant against my will” and “You should be forced to remain pregnant against your will because I think abortion is ‘bad’”. I have yet to hear a anti abortion argument that doesn’t relegate women’s existence to forced birthing factories. Appeals to God and a paradigm of ethics and morals founded upon his (yes of course his) existence can of course can be made – and as an anarchist I support the freedoms that facilitate that – but they should be given no greater intellectual weight that the musings of Thomas the Tank engine or other fictional entities. The function of suppressing women’s right to bodily integrity and reproductive choices does need a meta philosophy to justify itself. It is not to role of critically thinking, emotionally literate human beings to do that however.

If you align yourself to the Catholic Church you need to get used to the idea that many people see this as reason enough to reject the idea that you are an ethically coherent and emotionally literate human being. You have some ground to make up given our collective history. Likewise if you are a member of a political organisation that oversaw generations of state sanctioned abuse. And indeed this is also the case if you “believe” in unending economic growth on a planet of finite resources and growing inequality and social injustice. You simply come with too much baggage and too much incoherency to expect your ideas be deemed valid or socially useful merely because you hold them.

What come from this is the basis of a position that makes coherent arguments against state coercion in all its forms, but that also recognises that the state itself is deeply ideological itself, rather than an arbitrator. The tactic of mass civil disobedience has yet to be used within this wave of feminist struggle for social justice in the south. However when that happens, the state itself will be forced to act, and in doing so illuminate part of itself that so far has remained invisible in mainstream media narratives

Heres the letter

Open Letter

We, the undersigned, have either taken the abortion pill or helped women to procure the abortion pill in order to cause an abortion here in Northern Ireland.

We represent just a small fraction of those who have used, or helped others to use, this method because it is almost impossible to get an NHS abortion here, even when there is likely to be a legal entitlement to one.

We know that Stormont Ministers and the Public Prosecution Service are aware that such abortions have been taking place in the region for some years, but are unwilling to prosecute for a range of reasons, at least partly to do with not wanting an open debate around the issue of when women here should have a right to abortion.

We are publishing this letter now because of the Givan/Magennis amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which we believe is aimed at closing down the debate on abortion here, as much as it is about closing down Marie Stopes.

We want to emphasise that medical abortions happen in Northern Ireland on a daily basis but without any medical support or supervision. We were delighted when Marie Stopes came to Belfast as it meant that women who are unwell, and therefore eligible for a legal abortion, can access a doctor to supervise what we have done or helped others to do without medical help.

We live in the only part of the UK that still does not have a childcare strategy. We face huge cuts in children’s living standards if the Assembly passes the Welfare Reform Bill without major amendment. If our politicians showed as much zeal in protecting the lives of children who are already born, perhaps we would have fewer women seeking abortion because of poverty.

The letter contains signatures of 100 individuals from Northern Ireland who have accessed or helped women to access illegal (under Section 58 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861) abortion pills, such as those available from Women on Web (WoW).
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