SCHOLAR, poet and feminist activist, Kathy D’Arcy, has edited a newly published book, ‘Autonomy’ written by established women writers and activists and some who have never before been published.
It’s all part of the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment under the auspices of the ‘Together for Yes’ campaign.
Kathy is chairperson of the Cork branch of ‘Together for Yes’ which amalgamates ‘The Cork Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment.’ The book includes contributions from poets and writers including Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Claire Hennessy, Sinead Gleeson and Sarah Clancy.
“All kinds of women from different walks of life have contributed to the book,” says Kathy. “There are single-issue campaign groups represented as well as parents’ groups, young people’s groups and student activists. It’s for anyone who has an interest in making Ireland better for women.”
It’s part of a wider cultural moment alongside Waking the Feminists in Ireland and #MeToo and #TimesUp globally.
Kathy feels “hopeful” that the referendum to repeal the 8th amendment will be passed.
“Polls seem to indicate we’ll get repeal. It will be close. The last thing I want is for people to feel complacent. I want people to keep having the conversation and to come and help us out by canvassing, asking people if they’re going to vote. I don’t think we can be complacent at all. There’s a very strong movement against us, trying to keep things as they are. I feel filled with optimism but I’ll fight 100% until the very last second. I hope the people of Cork will join me.”
The response to the ‘Together for Yes’ canvassing campaign which started in earnest a couple of weeks ago “has been very positive,” according to Kathy.
“We also have nine or ten groups active in the county. A lot of us were worried that people in rural area would need more convincing but the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. That’s coming from people of all ages and walks of life. It’s not just young women who are interested in this referendum. Most people who come to our stalls are older people who lived through the 1983 amendment. They now realise that what that amendment did was damaging and they want it repealed.”
Abortion has always been a contentious issue in this country but Kathy says that contrary to predictions, the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment is not nasty.
“At least, not so far. We very rarely meet people who are angry or abusive towards us. When I was doing information stalls five or six years ago, I would have faced some scary situations, but that hardly ever happens now. I used to get some verbal abuse and threats. But now, people are able to have a conversation.”
“If anyone is confused, it’s actually very simple. All we’re trying to do is repeal the 8th amendment. Legislation will come down the line to regulate abortion. Some legislation has been proposed that recommends there should be no restrictions on abortion up to twelve weeks. The reason for that, pure and simple, is that if a woman is raped, she’s not going to be able to prove that she was raped within twelve weeks, if ever. In so many cases, women don’t come forward (claiming rape) and we learned recently that there are reasons for that. The twelve-week time limit was proposed for women who have experienced the horrific trauma of rape. I think it will provide the level of healthcare we need for women in Ireland.”
Kathy is encouraged by politicians, such as FF leader, Micheál Martin, who changed his mind on abortion.
“We had been visiting him as I’m sure other people did. I could see that he was thinking it through. He read the information and thought about it. He came to the right conclusion. In my view, he came to a more compassionate place and was able to say that the amendment needs to go. I was really impressed by that. Politicians such as Jerry Buttimer and Billy Kelleher are also a great support.”
As Kathy says, abortion was an issue that only women talked about. Men often said it was none of their business: “But actually, until we have those rights, it is their business to speak out for us. The worst thing a man can do is not vote. Anti-choice men will vote. When I see male politicians in particular speaking up for women, it’s a good feeling. It’s good that people are willing to be brave and possibly face opposition within their parties by standing up for women.”
In putting together the book, Kathy wanted to create a collection of stories and experiences by real women.
“If you read it, you will see what it feels like to have your bodily autonomy taken away from you, and maybe people will get to the point where they think that shouldn’t happen and they’ll stand out and speak against it.”
The book isn’t necessarily about harrowing stories, she says.
“I have done a lot crying in the reading of it. But it’s more crying with gratitude and happiness that people have come together to do this book. It’s a book that makes me feel safer to be a woman. I’m a feminist scholar. I’ve spent a long time researching Ireland’s relationship with women. That’s what my Ph.d is about. I feel I’m undoing a kind of multi-generational trauma.”
Kathy’s paternal grandmother had 16 children. Kathy learned, through an aunt researching a social science assignment at university, that her grandmother wasn’t interested in getting married. “She wanted to study and to go to school. But she didn’t have any option so she married and became a mother of 16. I feel in my life, I have a duty to be different and to follow my heart. When I started the book, it wasn’t about my grandmother. But as it has gone on, it has become more and more about her.”
If the referendum is passed, Kathy says there will not be more abortions in Ireland.
“It’s just that women will be able to access the help they need here. In 2016, 241 women from Cork went abroad to have abortions. Add to that the women who had to break the law and take abortion medication at home. If anything, there will be fewer abortions if the referendum is passed because we’ll have better access to contraception, better education.”
‘Autonomy’ edited by Kathy D’Arcy, is available through New Binary Press. http://newbinarypress.com/product/autonomy/. The book will be launched at the English department’s social area in the O’Rahilly Building, UCC tomorrow, April 19 at 5pm. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to support access to full reproductive healthcare, including safe, legal abortion.