A sense of hope was brought to Rhode Island women from Ireland at The Woman Project’s ‘Speak Up, Speak Out’ event last month.
A mostly womxn audience included advocacy leaders, doctors, clergy, lawyers and one state representative gathering to hear a diversity of womxn’s experiences, featuring keynote speaker, Laura Harmon, organizer from Ireland’s ‘Together for Yes’ successful campaign to repeal the country’s criminalization of abortion.
Following Harmon’s visit I reached out over email to ask her perspective on lessons Rhode Island could learn from Ireland.
A key factor in the campaign’s success was building united coalitions between people and organizations working towards the same goal, Harmon says.
Also critical, Harmon shares, was the use of personal stories from women who have had abortions, in addition to the perspective of medical professionals.
“Many public representatives went on a journey and changed their views on abortion having heard stories and testimonies from women and doctors.”
Successful lobbying efforts involved “respecting the views of others, encouraging dialogue and understanding that views can be changed.”
A big challenge the ‘Together for Yes’ campaign overcame was fundraising enough money to compete with a well-funded ‘No’ campaign.
“People from all walks of life were so generous in donating what they could give to the campaign,” Harmon said.
“If Rhode Islanders who care about safe and equitable access to healthcare want to help out, they could consider donating to one of the organisations in Rhode Island who are campaigning for this.”
“Developing a plan of action and forming a cohesive coalition for the campaign in a limited window of time will be an opportunity and a challenge for Rhode Island and across the U.S.”
A further challenge Ireland’s ‘Together for Yes’ campaign succeeded in overcoming, Harmon writes, was ensuring that their “message of compassion and care reached voters and resonated more than the negative tactics of the No side.”
“There is great opportunity to promote the language of care and compassion and to make women’s stories central to the campaign for healthcare in U.S.”
“Access to abortion and indeed access to healthcare in general is of course a class issue – access to healthcare should not be determined based on one’s ability to pay, but based on one’s need.
“Those who don’t have the financial means to access abortion or those who cannot travel to obtain one are often discriminated against when access is restricted.”
The tragic 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar occurred in an Irish hospital after she was refused an abortion, propelling activists to re- double their efforts.
“Ireland has changed a lot in recent years but we have a lot of work to do to improve equality for all citizens.”
“We still haven’t passed our abortion legislation and 10 women will still travel abroad every day until that legislation is passed.
“We may yet see a backlash and there are certainly conservative, misogynistic forces in Ireland who are campaigning against the legislation.”
“I don’t think Ireland is immune to the politics of hate of the far-right. There are forces in this world who would strip us of the rights that have been hard won by campaigners and once rights are won they need to be protected.”
“The fact that the referendum passed (and resoundingly by 66.4 per cent) means that legislation can now be brought forward and passed to make abortion legal in Ireland,” Harmon writes. “The referendum result will eventually mean an end to the stigma, shame and secrecy around abortion in Ireland.