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Speech by Laura Harmon, USI Vice President for Equality & Citizenship
City Hall Plaza
Monday, 29th April
I’m so proud to be standing here with you all this evening to demand accessible abortion legislation in Ireland. The Union of Students in Ireland is proud to be a pro-choice organisation and I am especially proud that just last month at our annual Congress we reaffirmed our pro-choice mandate, our support for legislation for X and our support for the repeal of the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution.Today I want to talk about risk and reward.

‘Demand a Better Future’ – that is the slogan of USI’s Equality campaign – we demand a better future for everybody in Ireland.

We believe that the denial of rights to one student is the denial of rights to all students. And our rights are non negotiable – there is no risk or price too great when it comes to the protection and realisation of rights.

Accessible abortion legislation and indeed accessible abortion is a gender equality issue. It’s a class issue. It’s often a race issue.

According to UK Department of Health statistics, one quarter of those availing of abortion services in the UK every year with Irish addresses are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Therefore, this is also a student issue and I’m inspired to stand here this evening with so many students.

Ireland still doesn’t have gender equality.

We have a terrible track record of protecting women’s rights and health in Ireland – particularly the rights and health of pregnant women.

We only have to look at our recent past to see this. Take the Magdalene Laundries for example; women being forced to give up their children to strangers, our record of putting women into psychiatric hospitals and the horror of symphisiotomy procedures that women had to undergo.

And we will never, ever allow ourselves to forget what happened to Savita Hallapanavar.

Nothing can ever give back those 21 years of inaction. And while we urge the Government to pass this legislation we must never forget that for many women it comes too little too late.

We stand in solidarity with the 12 women who travel every day to the UK for terminations, these women who are made to feel ashamed for exercising control of their own reproductive rights. Well, the shame is not theirs.

This is our nation’s shame. This is our nation’s failure. That failure belongs to all of us. The shame is that even today no progress has been made, that today we see the catastrophe of our failure to engage with women’s rights issues, the failure of the State to protect over half of its people.

We have many politicians in this country – and we have some very excellent ones – but the reality is that we have very few public representatives in Ireland.

Because there is a difference between playing at politics and actual representation.

We need real public representatives with who are willing to take perceived risks, to have the courage to act as agents to fight for what the majority of those they represent want – and if they do this we will be behind them every single step of the way.

We are not asking for much- we are asking for these people we’ve already elected to become public representatives and to represent us.

Politics in this country has become too much about the politician – and too much about the party – when politics should be and has always been about the people.

Many women are suffering in Ireland today. Many women have suffered and died. The time for legislation was 21 years ago. It’s imperative that this legislation protects women and it must include every risk, including the risk of suicide and the professional analysis of no more than two medical practitioners.

You know, being a woman in Ireland is risky. It seems that everybody in Ireland can talk about our health and reproductive rights – except us. The single biggest risk to not being taken seriously, to not having your decisions listened to in Ireland – is to be born a woman.

A few moments ago, I asked our politicians to take the risk of becoming public representatives. The reward for this eventually will be the end of the suffering, the end of unnecessary deaths, the end to those early morning flights– an end to women not being taken seriously.

The reward at the end of the day is an end to the stain of shame on our nation. This stain of shame cannot be allowed to define our future as it defines our past.

Together we demand a better future for women in Ireland. And we must go hell for leather to repeal that awful 8th amendment. As Ailbhe Smyth said at our last rally – ‘we will not rest’ until this is done. We simply cannot risk it.

Thank you.

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