Reportage. Women’s rights groups have delivered an ultimatum to the government: Call a referendum on the anti-abortion law or the country goes on strike.

March 8 could be a turning point in Ireland abortion struggle

On March 8, Irish women will strike for one day against the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, the restrictive 1983 abortion law that equates the mother’s right to life to that of the fetus and establishes a prison sentence of up to 14 years for those who practice illegal abortions.

The law forces thousands of women every year buy illicit abortion pills online without medical assistance. At least 12 women per day travel at their own expense to England or Wales, where abortion is legal. The Eighth Amendment forbids abortion on Irish soil, except in cases where the woman’s life is in danger. Abortion is even illegal in cases of rape.

Around 2012, civil rights activists, feminist groups and other associations launched the “Repeal the 8th” campaign, calling for a referendum to abrogate the Eighth Amendment. The last large rally was held in the fall, when tens of thousands of people — mainly women but also men — marched in Dublin in the rain to demand the government call a referendum. Two parliamentary opposition groups, the People Before Profit Alliance and the Anti-Austerity Alliance, picked up the torch, presenting a motion to set the date of the vote.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny, however, has delayed and entrusted the matter to a Citizens’ Assembly, a group of 99 randomly selected citizen who have been asked to make recommendations on legislative reform. Kenny, who rules by a very narrow majority, will then forward the recommendations to a special parliamentary committee.

Tired of constant postponement, some academics, artists, political activists and trade unionists have launched the Strike4Repeal campaign, giving the government an ultimatum: If a referendum hasn’t been called by March 8, they’ll strike. Not a strike in the traditional sense: Organizers are urging people to call off work if they can or walk out on domestic duties. Those unable to participate are invited to wear black in solidarity.

A video of the campaign explains that time off work is a way to show solidarity with the thousands of women each year who are forced to take leave in order to realize their right to self-determination over their own bodies.

The first crowded public meeting was held last week in Dublin and was attended by more than 100 mostly young people. There were many references to the situation internationally, framing the walkout in terms of the women’s strike taking place the same day in other countries, including the one in Italy known as “Not One Less.” The number of people signing up to join the protest is multiplying by the day, a movement that could prove a turning point in a decades-long struggle.

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