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All photos by Brian O'Flynn

Thousands March for Abortion Rights in Ireland

Brian O'Flynn

Just days after the Irish government called a 2018 referendum on the abortion ban, we meet the people who hit the streets to protest for change on the annual March for Choice.

All photos by Brian O'Flynn

Tens of thousands of people turned out in Dublin on Saturday for Ireland's sixth annual March for Choice. Organized by Abortion Rights Campaign, the protest snakes across the capital city each year in pursuit of bodily autonomy for every uterus owner in Ireland.

Since 1983 and the insertion of the Eighth Amendment to our constitution, the people of Ireland have lived in the shadow of one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. On face value, the amendment simply asserts the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn. In practice, it has meant that virtually all abortion has been prohibited on our island for over three decades.

The far-reaching implications of the amendment have manifested in such international scandals as the death of Savita Halappanavar. Subsequent amendments have been introduced over the decades to mitigate the suffocating effects of the Eighth—women are allowed to travel outside the state for abortions, and abortions can be performed if there is a risk to the woman's life as a result of pregnancy.

Driven from Irish shores, 12 women leave Ireland every day to procure abortion services abroad. Finally, after decades of campaigning, the Irish government announced only five days earlier that a referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment will be held in May or June of 2018.

Read more: Does Ireland Think Abortion Is Worse Than Heroin?

This year's March for Choice takes place on the tail end of three decades of lobbying, and with the knowledge of the now imminent referendum. The atmosphere of the protest was jubilant but determined, and its participants proud but not complacent. They know that this year's March—if the referendum swings their way next summer—might be the last they ever attend.

Sruthi Jose, Sarah Walsh, Elizabeth Murdoch, and Blanaid Smith

Sruthi Jose,19, Sarah Walsh, 19, Elizabeth Murdoch, 18, Blanaid Smith, 18, students

Sruthi Jose: This march is important because we should have choice over our own bodies. They are our bodies—that's it. Religion shouldn't be something that interferes with someone's biology.
Sarah Walsh: I'm here for the wellbeing of me, my friends, my family, the generation to come - my children if I have them—we need to have the choice.
Elizabeth Murdoch: I believe that I should have a choice over what happens to my body and I don't believe that anyone else should make that decision for me.
Blanaid Smith: We have incredibly restrictive abortion laws in Ireland and they're killing women throughout the country. It's just unacceptable.

Trisha Cusack, Sara Loughlin, and Lisa Murray

Trisha Cusack, 20, Sara Loughlin, 20, Lisa Murray, 20, students

Trisha Cusack: I'm here because women and men in Ireland under the age of 52 have never been able to vote on this issue. That's everyone of childbearing age. That means the eighth amendment directly affects people who have never been able to vote on their own bodily autonomy. It's about time for this referendum.
Sara Loughlin: I want people to have the choice to do whatever they want to do with their own bodies.

Lute Alraad and Deirdre McGing

Lute Alraad and Deirdre McGing, Time Travelers for Choice members

Lute Alraad: We're volunteers at the Abortion Rights Campaign and this is our project, Time Travelers for Choice. This year's march theme is "Time to Act," so our project highlights the fact that the struggle for bodily autonomy in Ireland has been going on for way too long. The old-fashioned dress is intended to break stereotypes of what people who protest look like.
Deirdre McGing: We set up Time Travelers for Choice because of Ireland's archaic laws. Everyone's looking at the way we're dressed—we're out of place and out of time. People need to look at Ireland's archaic abortion laws and realize that maybe they're out of place too.

Sadie Monks

Sadie Monks, 45

Sadie Monks: I've been marching for abortion rights since 1992. I'm tired of it. I've been marching for this my entire fertile life. That's how long the Eighth Amendment has been in place. When I was 13 or 14 years old, it came in. I'm now looking at my niece who's the same age as I was then, and she's marching with me—it's extremely frustrating. My mother is frustrated too. That's three generations of Irish women who have been affected by the Eighth Amendment. I'm still affected by it now at the age of 45.

Bill Walsh and Ciara Hamilton

Bill Walsh, 19, Ciara Hamilton, 21, students

Ciara Hamilton: The Eighth Amendment is inherently discriminatory to women. I think it's incredibly insulting to women and shows the general distrust that the Irish state has, and has always had, towards women.
Bill Walsh: It's a national embarrassment. We want to think of ourselves as a modern country but we still have this archaic barrier in place. We're actually more restrictive than Saudi Arabia when it comes to abortion. It's disgraceful.

Jane Xavier (far right) with Migrants and Ethnic Minorities for Reproductive Justice.

Jane Xavier, 38, Migrants and Ethnic Minorities for Reproductive Justice member

Jane Xavier: We are a platform for migrant and ethnic minority people, especially women. We are here in solidarity with all women. It's not only about abortion, it's about all aspects of reproductive health and reproductive justice. For migrant women to access free cervical smears tests in Ireland, it's really hard. You have to have a PPS number [a Personal Public Service Number is necessary to access public services in Ireland]. Some migrant women pay 60 euro for a GP appointment, only to get there and find out that they can't have a cervical smear test because they don't have a PPS number.

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In 2015, the Maternal Death Inquiry Report said that 40 percent of maternal deaths in Ireland were migrant women. The Eighth Amendment discriminates against migrant women because they can't travel to the UK for abortions—some of them may be undocumented, be stuck in direct provision, or have to arrange visas. We face more obstacles to access abortion. The eighth amendment needs to be repealed for every woman in Ireland.

Ebun Black and Ashleigh Easton

Ebun Black, 25 and Ashleigh Easton, 30

Ebun Black: It's important that we change the laws for women's health in Ireland. It's extremely backwards right now. It's so great that there are so many people out here today, and that we actually have a voice. Hopefully the government will listen to us.
Ashleigh Easton: I'm Australian, I've only been here for 24 hours, I'm here for Ebun's birthday. She told me the march was happening today and we came along. It's absolutely fucking ridiculous that in Ireland today you need to go to another country or do something really dangerous to have an abortion. It's so important for women's health and society as a whole that we're able to make these kinds of decisions for ourselves.

Cliona Kelly and Marian Farrelly

Cliona Kelly and Marian Farrelly, Parents for Choice members

Cliona Kelly: I think it's a matter of bodily integrity. I have four children, one is a boy and three are girls. It just seems crazy to me that the girls won't have the same bodily rights as my son will, and I want them all to have the same rights.
Marian Farrelly: I think Parents for Choice are really important. We need to bust the myths around what kind of people have abortions. We need to get it out there that over 50 percent of people who have abortions are parents already. It's not something people go into blindly. These are decisions made by families who need to keep the best interests of the children they already have at heart.