Inspiration from Ireland

Some of the most profound visual representations of civil-society resistance this year are the photographs of hundreds of Irish women across the world travelling back to Ireland to partake in the referendum vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment. The “Yes” campaign’s win reverberated across the globe and, as a clinician practicing in South Africa, it gave me a glimpse of what it must have been like for many who worked tirelessly on our own process of liberalizing abortion law 21 years ago, well before my time. The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy (CTOP) Act provides the legal framework for the provision of abortion services in South Africa, and this law is regarded as one of the most progressive of its kind the world over. Despite these legal gains, the law’s implementation has seen major regressions in the last decade owing to several structural and sustained funding restrictions. Unlike South Africa, Ireland does not depend on foreign health aid that, by extension, influences the country’s program design, implementation and health policy. The biggest work of strengthening the Irish health system for equitable access now begins; clinical training of providers, procurement of reproductive commodities, using bioethics and the evidence base to inform policy and clinical protocols.

Even in South Africa, we are still experiencing attempts by extremist anti-choice movements and faith-based organizations to amend the CTOP Act to restrict access to safe and legal abortion services. The “Yes” campaign reinvigorated many women’s rights organizations globally as we watched from various countries what collective resistance can achieve. The Irish referendum win offers an opportunity for us all to organize across the globe, to defend and protect current gains and to resist ongoing global attacks on women’s rights.

Vice Chair, Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition of South Africa
Johannesburg, South Africa

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