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ByWheezy danceron 16 April 2009
I bought this book because I know nothing about the title topic and felt it was of great relevance - as an Irish man, born in the North, who grew up in Dublin - who grew up indeed around the corner from the girl at the centre of the X case - and as someone, friends of whose family had given children up for adoption after teen pregnancies.

This book is much more comprehensive than the title suggests. It covers the emigration of women to the UK, for instance; the experience of women, such as Nuala O'Faoláin's mother, maturing in a culture which denied them basic information about their bodies; the politics of government funding of emigrant groups in the context of the UK policy of multiculturalism; and the history of Irish pro-choice movement, but evenly, clearly and effectively bringing home relevance of all of these.

It also goes some way to explain how Ireland became so defined by the focus on fertility and the role of sex - both in the North and South - which is surely one of the great questions my own generation struggles with, if we are to understand our own history - at a level more substantive than that of the old politics.

This is a book of tremendous value to our own self-understanding, and as such, of tremendous "democratic" value, if I can use the word without seeming too flowery.


ByMara Clarkeon 20 April 2009

Do you believe in a woman's right to choose to have an abortion?

So much so that you would donate money for the procedure? Would you take it a step further and actually open your home to a woman forced to travel to your country to obtain an abortion? This book is about a group of women who did just that.

From 1980 to 2000, long before cheap airfare and the ready availability of information on the Internet, a group of London based Irish activists started two groups to help women forced to travel from Ireland to obtain abortions. From holding sponsored swims and other fundraising events to campaigning for legalised abortion in Ireland to ferrying women from the airports to the clinics and having them stay in their homes before and after procedures, these women were on the front lines of the abortion wars.

The events in the book take place years ago, but they are still relevant today. Abortion is legal in the UK and available on the NHS (and has been since the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act), but is still against the law in Northern Ireland and has never been legal in the Republic of Ireland. More than 7,000 Irish women a year are travelling to obtain abortions, making this book important today.

The book also offers a fascinating history of Irish immigrants in London and Irish attitudes towards sex, contraception and women in general. A really interesting book for anyone interested in the struggle for abortion rights in Ireland, a women's right to choose, or grassroots activism.


ByAmanda Sebestyenon 5 May 2009

I came expecting a work of solidarity and memory - a useful, some times moving record of a movement of women in the recent past. It would be a fine text for gender studies and social anthropology courses, where they still exist to be taught.

The book is that, of course. But between those respectable covers I found a kind of hand-grenade, primed with wit and fury.

How had so few of us registered that birth control and safe legal abortion rights - won for English women in 1967 - are still explicitly denied to women in Northern Ireland, though the British state still claims it as part of the UK?

And - though we knew abortion was outlawed yet the remaining desperate option in the Irish Republic (a situation which some times seems closer to Colombia or Nicaragua than the rest of the Catholic EU) - did we know that generations of women were terrorised with the image of their foetus being agonisingly tortured for all eternity?That's what the doctrine of Limbo meant, in practice; a doctrine upheld ruthlessly for six centuries, then dropped by the present Pope two years ago, without a word of apology to the generations of women whose lives it had ruined.

Women denied birth control were being forced to view themselves as worse than murderers if they used abortion. One result was infanticide , and tragic attempts to baptise both smothered infants and the aborted embryos which were on the same level of life in the eyes of the Church.

An 'underground railroad' of Irishwomen in London formed in 1981, ready to help some of the estimated 6,500 women per year forced to cross the sea and struggle across a strange city, seeking a clinic to terminate their pregnancies.

The stories are all here: the incest case, the ardently 'British' Unionist helped by 'Paddies' , the links to Spanish women (once in the same predicament, now living in a modern secular republic, though always threatened with reversals by referenda). And the dancing and demonstrating of a vibrant group of activists, enjoying their freedom and passing it on.

But the cruelty of so many of these women's predicaments is breathtaking. The author's own account of her illegal abortion, before the 1967 Abortion Act, does not flinch. We do, and realise this cannot and must not go on .

Last year Diane Abbott MP tried to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland as part of the Embryology Bill, but the British government chickened out. And neither of NI's governing parties , Sinn Fein or the DUP, would attend the launch of this book in Stormont parliament. But now Ireland's Hidden Diaspora is going to the Dail in Dublin. I hope it makes an almighty bang.

Amanda Sebestyen
Subpages (1): By Amanda Sebestien