Reduced numbers at 2019 March for Choice after referendum win but a big fight is coming in 2021


The 2019 annual March for Choice in Dublin was smaller than the previous two marches as many assumed the abortion referendum that Repealed the hated 8th amendment had settled the issue.  In fact the legislation brought in by the Fine Gael government in the months after the referendum left some groups behind, in particular migrants and forces everyone to go through a medically useless 3 day waiting period.  Despite being warned about this and other issues including the trans exclusive language Fine Gael went ahead with the flawed legislation so some still have to travel and not everyone has the papers or resources to be able to do so.  The legislation is up for review in 2021 and the anti-choice organisations are gearing up to try and roll back the legislation, the pro-choice movement needs to not only stop them doing so but needs to try and force whoever is in power to remove the flaws in the legislation. [Video]


Documents mentioned in narration
ARC submission on draft legislation

Race, Identity & the State after Irish abortion referenda

Video of the speeches

Transcript of narration

[chants]  Our bodies, Our lives, Our right to decide Our bodies, Our lives, Our right to decide

Numbers on the 2019 March for Choice organized by the Abortion Rights Campaign were significantly down on last year I would say probably less than a quarter of the number marched and very considerably down on the pre-referendum march, it was probably about one thirtieth of that. The reasons why are not that hard to understand a lot of people simply see it as we won the referendum and haven't heard about or aren't particularly aware of the problems in the legislation that Fine Gael enacted. That was the reason for the theme of this year's march which was 'No One Left Behind'

[chants] No one left behind, no one left behind

It's an expression of a reality that in fact quite a number of groups were left behind and that the legislation needs significant improvement. There is a timetable for that the legislation  that was passed included a review after three years so sometime probably in late 2021 there should be a review process and it's already apparent that the anti-choice movements are gearing up for that process with the intention to try and introduce as many restrictions as possible. As with other situations we can expect that the anti-choice movement in Ireland is getting advice from their funders in the United States and will be implementing exactly the sort of tactics that have been used in the United States to rollback abortion access in the aftermath of Roe vs. Wade. We do have to presume that they're going to be able to do this if unopposed they already succeeded in terms of the legislation that was passed in getting that mandatory three-day waiting period and the requirement for two visits to the doctor. That makes access for many people very much harder and it does not have any basis whatsoever in medicine.

In fact it's very useful to read the ARC submission on the flaws of the draft legislation that was sent in the August after the referendum passed where you'll see many of these points covered it in quite a bit of detail. So Fine Gael can hardly claim not to have been warned - the inclusion of the barriers to access is very much a deliberate policy. You can find that submission at

For instance specifically on the mandatory waiting period I'll quote "The government itself must remove the significant legislative barrier to access currently proposed and medically unnecessary three-day waiting period. Barriers to abortion access will only serve to undermine the law and endanger the welfare of abortion seekers.  They will force some in Ireland to travel abroad for care as if the eighth had never been repealed or to order pills online instead of receiving a doctor's care." with ARC "strongly urging the government harmonize the proposed legislation with the Gender Recognition  Act 2015 by making it explicitly inclusive of transgender and non-binary people who can and do become pregnant and avail of abortion.  This can be done by using the words person or person who is pregnant rather than woman throughout the legislation or at a minimum defining woman to encompass anyone of any age who can become pregnant.”

That ARC document on the flaws in the Fine Gael legislation is worth reading it's about 10 pages in length but it very definitely establishes that Fine Gael were very clearly warned that the legislation they proposed to introduce would result in a lot of people being left behind and went ahead with that anyway. And that's not just important in the context of who's to blame for that happening but also in the realization that one of the reasons Fine Gael did that was for their own conservative base. If the anti-choice movement manages to build a significant and large movement demanding restrictions in 2021 it's very likely that either a Fine Gael or Fianna Fail government will make compromises to that movement and the existing legislation will be further undermined.

[Chanting]Not the church, not the state Women must decide their fate
[Chanting]Not the church, not the state People must decide their fate

The other impact the flaws in the legislation I've had is to cause a certain amount of demoralization and indeed even division within the pro-choice movement. You'll get some sense of that if you listen to all the speeches at the end of the video. Very briefly at the start of the actual referendum campaign ARC voted to enter into a coalition that was called Together for Yes and that coalition managed to involve just about everybody who was campaigning for a yes vote in the referendum. Of course the problem with the coalition of everybody was that meant it also it involved people in Fine Gael who were very willing to vote yes mainstream NGOs and a whole lot of others that were relatively conservative voices but we're willing to go yes on that message.

Obviously in such a campaign it's not going to be the case that the most radical element get to define what the messaging of the campaign is, it's all going to come out as compromises and some of the compromises that ended up being made were not to talk about migrant access to abortion and also not to talk about trans rights. The sense that Together for Yes had was that that would overly complicate the issue and was likely to result in a smaller yes vote or perhaps even a defeat. The problems with this are laid out in an article by Paulo Revetti called 'Race Identity and the State After the Abortion Referendum' which you'll find at Specifically they argue "The strategy of pro-choice activists to focus on abortion narrowly instead of approaching the issue of reproductive justice intersectionally laid the foundations for the continuous invisiblization in the law of those people who represent the 'other' to the Irish population"

My understanding is that the vote in ARC to enter Together for Yes was more or less unanimous and really it's that decision that meant there was going to be compromises on the messaging that followed. Was there an alternative to  that? Perhaps there might have been - the alternative really would have been the ARC staying outside of Together for Yes, Together for Yes would then have been the mainstream NGOs and Fine Gael politicians, it would probably have had very much different messaging. The one significant problem with that strategy is it [T4Y] would probably also have had almost all the media access. So that while ARC would have been able to stick to its preferred messaging it may not have had that much of an opportunity to get it across to people. In the aftermath of the referendum most, indeed perhaps all, pro-choice activists reported that what they found difficult about canvassing was having to listen to people's concerns that were based on misogyny and reactionary politics and not being able to take those ideas directly on because you were hoping to get them to vote yes despite that. In fact you could almost say that there's a kind of form of PTSD in the aftermath with people unhappy about those compromises and it's perhaps even less surprising that the greatest intensity of feeling around this is from those who were left behind in terms of the campaign messaging, migrants and trans people in particular. Hence the 'No one left behind demand' as the main theme of this march.

The pro-choice movement now finds itself in a little bit of a tricky situation the demoralisation and divisions that came about because of the flaws in the Fine Gael legislation and the Together for Yes campaign mean that the numbers that actually took part are down and a lot of activists are feeling a bit burnt out and exhausted. However we know that in a couple of years time there's going to be the review of the legislation and we can see that the anti-choice side are very much regrouping.  They have the significant advantage in that although the demoralization and division on their side is considerably worse they have operated on the basis of receiving very significant funds particularly coming in from the United States and that, the thing about receiving significant funds is it means that they're able to run an operation that's actually based on paid people, working out of office rather than the pro-choice campaign which is essentially based on unpaid volunteers. Even if people are burned out if they're being paid they will still turn up and you can have things like sending people to the National Ploughing Championship to sign people up. 

The other major form of preparation the anti-choice side are taking is that they're launching their own forms of online social media and in particular the new, quite hard right, new site called GRIPT that has the involvement of some of the more extreme elements of the anti-choice movement. But the other disturbing thing it's doing is it's very much pivoting towards the wave of racism focused around the building of new Direct Provision centers in places like Oughterard, Moiville and Rooskey that the very small Irish far-right has managed to successfully manipulate and to start grow a movement out of. Those of us who use Twitter a lot observed that in the aftermath of the referendum a lot of the Twitter accounts that were being used to push the most virulent anti-choice messaging started to also push equally virulent racist messaging so it's pretty clear that the far-right that was running those accounts identified a gap in the market, if you like, amongst no voters and have been seeking to exploit that ever since. Peter Casey's election campaign of course where as soon as he came out with anti traveller racism he saw his vote go from about 2% to about 19 percent is another indication of that sort of gap.

It's nothing like a majority of people in Ireland but it is enough that you could build a really nasty party out of. All of which is to say that it's a pretty high-stakes situation even beyond the immediate issue of abortion legislation. You have a far-right movement that's hoping to grow out of the mobilizations that will take place to demand restrictive legislation in the review in a couple of years time and of course you have that anti-choice movement itself that has a model based on what's happening in the United States, that is already well funded, is reorganizing itself, has already launched its own media platform and I think we can definitely expect to see go on the offensive in the next few months as a build-up to trying to bring in additional restrictions.

On the other hand for us the legislation is nothing like good enough, it's left too many people behind. What we find ourselves with a comparatively weak movement that is only mobilizing one thirtieth of the people that it was mobilizing two years ago. So the big challenge is how to rebuild that movement and how to rebuild it in the context where there is genuine deeply felt division and conflict. Next year's March for Choice is probably going to be a key test as to whether or not that is succeeding and that's very much going to be dependent on people who had sort of dropped out or only briefly involved around the referendum and deciding to come back and get centrally involved in building. If we don't see a March for Choice next year that's in the thousands then we really not need to be worried about what's going to happen in terms of the review of legislation. And the odds are the March for Choice the year afterwards will happen right before the review or perhaps even during the course of it and that really therefore will need to get back to a mobilization of tens of thousands.

So March for Choice is only one aspect of that but it's a barometer of how much of the network actually exists outside of that The real success of the referendum campaign was all the local groups that were built around the country and the canvassing that made possible but it's much harder to actually see those - what we will be able to see is the attendance that comes out for the March for Choice.