Sarah Jaffe—author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt and a journalist covering labour issues—has been in Ireland reporting on the campaign to Repeal the 8th. During a break in her travels, she took time to write for Rebel on why she feels so deeply about this movement.
To be on the left in the United States these days is to feel constantly on edge, rushing to put out the latest fire from the Trump administration or it’s many little Trumplets around the country—here a raid by immigration officers on a farm, there an attempt to enforce work requirements for food aid, and over here in Iowa a ban on abortion after six weeks, setting up a potential Supreme Court showdown that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that keeps abortion at least somewhat accessible in every state in the country.
In the midst of the firefighting—and, it should be noted, some inspiring resistance, including most recently a five-plus-state teacher strike wave—I paused to come to Ireland to cover the referendum on the 8th amendment. It’s certainly not as if, as a political reporter, I’d run out of topics to cover. But there’s a reason beyond my own affection for Ireland (and my desperate need for a break) that I came.
The abortion battle in the US is a struggle that takes place on hundreds of fronts every day, whether it be clinic by clinic, where anti-choicers turn up to protest and attempt to physically block patients from getting inside, or state by state, where a variety of laws have been passed to chip slowly away at abortion access while leaving it technically still legal.
There are zoning laws, used to make sure that no abortion clinic can actually exist within city limits, and restrictions on providers, attempts to constantly redefine the timeframe within which abortion is possible. There was, a few years back, a bill in Congress that would have banned abortion except in case of “forcible” rape (as opposed, presumably, to the other, less forcible kinds of rape) or incest, and another that would allow doctors to let a pregnant person die rather than perform an abortion.
So in one sense I come to Ireland to talk to people about the situation that we could be facing if the Trump-Pence Right gets its way. In another, the idea of a defining national referendum feels oddly optimistic, a sign of progress on the issue that could bring real change. I know better than to think that anything will be settled, one way or the other, on May 25th, but nevertheless, I come in hope that progress will be marked.
There’s another thing. We in the States are in the middle of a backlash administration that is certainly not the only one of its kind across the world. In the face of concerted reaction, some on the Left would argue that now is not the time to fight about “social” issues like abortion. As if, in the words of a friend, uteruses are not extremely material. What “social issues” often means as a phrase is issues that are of primary concern to a group of people who are not straight white men.
But I am heartened here by the full and deep participation of the Left and even a swathe of the trade union movement, committed to understanding that abortion—particularly when it requires travel and a significant outlay of cash—is a workplace issue as much as any of the other concerns that workers face. It is an issue of power and who has it and who does not.
And so I hope to bring back Stateside a story of how Ireland won repeal of the 8th Amendment and brought to an end a system that is burdensome at best and horrific at worst, a story we can learn from when we think about how to talk and how to fight over our fundamental right to bodily autonomy.