The Myth of the Pro-Life Rebellion

As the dust settles after the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment, those of us who voted “Yes” need to be very wary going forward. We have to be mindful of how the right-wing in this country will try – indeed, are already trying – to spin the historic result. After the results of the referendum were announced, “Save The 8th” spokesperson, John McGuirk, tweeted: “In terms of the calls to silence me, or others – hah. You guys own the country now. You own the media, the political class, the culture. You can keep pretending that a minority voice is holding you back, or you can realise that it’s actually an oppression of your own making.”

This is the same thing Donald Trump did during his presidential campaign: pretending that he was a lone voice in the wilderness, standing up for the oppressed against their oppressors of Washington, “mainstream media” and “fake news”. When, in fact, he was – and is – very much a part of the moneyed elite who hold the reins of power. But it worked for Trump. And that’s why we have to be careful.

Because the “No” side needs to be seen now as the outsiders, the ones giving voice to the voiceless. Probably the most hilarious thing of this referendum was to see the “No” side trying to sell itself as a “grassroots movement” or a “rebellion”. The only grassroots movement was the young (and older) women (and men) in REPEAL jumpers pounding the streets of Ireland.

But, by the same token, it wasn’t the “quiet revolution” that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called it either – as he stood on stage with the other “Johnny come lately” politicians, as Miriam Lord called them in the Irish Times.

It was a loud revolution – it was just that those in government, and the church, and on the Right, chose not to hear it. These women weren’t quiet, they were loud. “Get Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries,” they shouted. “My Body, My Choice.” “Shrill”, “abrasive”, and “confrontational” were just some of the words used by their detractors, or the “tone police” as they came to be known. They might as well have called them “feminazis”.

Of course, some of them did.


The supposed “quiet revolution”. The March for Choice, Dublin, Sept 30, 2017. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill 

Over 40,000 people took to the streets of Dublin for the “March for Choice” on Sept 30, 2017. The revolution wasn’t quiet; it was just ignored. At least, until it couldn’t be ignored anymore.

The Pro-Life side will continue to claim that the Pro-Choice side “own the media [and] the political class”. But this referendum wasn’t won by some “media elite” – it was won through hearts and minds. By women talking about their experiences, and by people listening to those women’s stories. It was won by the activists who marched, who manned information stalls, who canvassed at doors. You want to talk about power, money, and influence? The “No” side had it in spades. They had the money to cover the country in a sea of “No” posters, to buy expensive ads on Google and Facebook, something the “Yes” side could never hope to match.

But despite all that, there was one simple thing their money couldn’t buy: the power of the truth. And the power of a real grassroots rebellion.

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