Frontiers Augmented highlights selected authors from our issues to create a means for deeper engagement with the content published in the Frontiers Journal. The most recent general issue 43.2, edited by Frontiers Co-Editors Wanda S. Pillow, Kimberly M. Jew, and Darius Bost, highlights authors Cara Delay, Professor of History at the College of Charleston, and Beth Sundstrom, Associate Professor of Communication and Public Health at the College of Charleston.
In May 2018, voters in the Republic of Ireland made a clear statement when they voted overwhelmingly to decriminalize abortion for the first time in the country’s history. This visible support for abortion rights marked a sea-change in popular views over just a few decades; the Irish public had voted for further restrictions on abortion in 1983 through the controversial Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which equated fetal life with the life of a pregnant person.
The Irish case is particularly relevant now, in the wake of the Dobbs decision (2022) in the United States, because it demonstrates how activists can create successful abortion-rights campaigns. Irish activists’ tactics leading up to the 2018 popular vote included story-telling and truth-telling via social media. Created by Erin Darcy, “In Her Shoes: Women of the Eighth” (IHS), a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, was particularly effective. Started in the few months before the 2018 vote on abortion, IHS publicized Irish women’s raw and personal abortion experiences, garnering 66,000 followers in only a few months. Posts, which were anonymous, focused on Irish women’s travel to England in the previous decades to access abortion safely and legally.
By sharing their experiences on IHS, Irish women gave voice to common experiences that were historically cloaked in silence and shame. They discussed bodily realities, such as bleeding and pain. They described feeling like they were on display but simultaneously hiding as they traveled to England for an abortion. Contributors also described camaraderie with, and support from, other women, particularly family members across generations. These women’s narratives contested the silence about reproductive realities that dominated Irish society for so long. For many contributors to IHS, posting was a radical act that helped overcome Ireland’s legacy of shame.
The activist movement to bring legal abortion to Ireland was far from perfect; forums such as IHS have been criticized for featuring middle-class, white cis women and minimizing the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, and Travellers. The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act (2019) also contained limits: it allowed for abortion only up through twelve weeks of a pregnancy, required a three-day waiting period between a doctor’s visit and an abortion, and permitted some practitioners to refuse abortion care.
Still, movements like IHS provide a hopeful example for us today. Through social media, contributors to IHS demanded that the nation not erase the horrors of the past but rather recognize them and give women space to talk about them. As they raised their voices and expressed themselves in their own words, contributors contested the passive, sentient ideal of domesticity that historically informed women’s lives in Ireland and set a precedent for twenty-first-century activism in Ireland and beyond. The recent assaults on abortion rights in the United States, Poland, and elsewhere make the need for grassroots feminist activism centered on story-telling and truth-telling only more evident.
Cara Delay, Ph.D., Department of History, the College of Charleston, and Beth Sundstrom, Ph.D., MPH, Department of Communication, the College of Charleston.