Are the recent spate of “Darkest Day” hashtags merely misguided or hugely disrespectful?
On 21 October 2019, abortion and same-sex marriage were decriminalised in Northern Ireland, after legislation passed by Westminster came into effect. And although many celebrated the historic laws taking effect, anti-choice groups quickly took to social media to express their disapproval. They started the hashtag #DarkestDay, accompanied by a black profile picture.
I remember opening Facebook the next morning and wondering what all the black profile pictures were about. After some quick research, I learned that anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ+ groups started the movement to protest against the laws that – in their opinion – were forced on Northern Ireland. The more posts I’ve read, the more enraged I’ve become, with a single question forming in my mind: “Have these people never heard of The Troubles?”
In 1972, British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians during a protest in Derry/Londonderry, in an incident that later became known as Bloody Sunday. In 1997, in the town of Omagh, the Real Irish Republican Army – an IRA splinter group who opposed the Good Friday Agreement– set off a car bomb in a crowded shopping area, which killed 29 people and injured more than 200. Amongst the victims were 30-year-old Avril Monaghan, pregnant with twins, and her daughter, one-year-old Mauna Monaghan.
The idea that women being able to access abortion care in their own region coming even close to the violent incidents happening during The Troubles is not only deeply ignorant but also disrespectful towards the victims of these attacks. Because, essentially, the #DarkestDay campaign blatantly disregards the 3,500 lives lost during the conflict and declares 21 October 2019 as the darkest day in Northern Ireland’s history.
Jenna Clarke-Molloy, a campaigner for “Yes Equality” and “Together for Yes” says she feels sorry for the people who consider 21 October a dark day: “They feel that way because of a belief they hold that they can dictate what other people do in their relationships and with their own bodies.” Jenna, who herself is from Ireland, says she was thankful Westminster intervened. “In general, Stormont not sitting in two years is a disgrace, but particularly when these issues were of such importance. Women and same-sex couples in Northern Ireland were second-class citizens in their own homes”.
The hypocrisy of the #DarkestDay movement mourning foetuses while opposing laws that would potentially save women’s lives from back-alley abortions is mortifying. It’s a known fact that abortion bans don’t stop women from seeking out services. They do, however, make terminations dangerous. Data published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) showed 1,053 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England in 2018,to seek out abortion services. But these statistics are only a fragment of the truth. They don’t talk about the women who cannot afford to travel – financially or otherwise – and are forced to order dangerous pills online, have an unsafe abortion, or carry out an unwanted pregnancy.
Despite the efforts of anti-choice groups led by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the new law obliges the UK to secure legal abortions in Northern Ireland by 31 March 2020. Same-sex couples will be able to marry in Northern Ireland from 14 February, aka Valentine’s Day – a most fitting coincidence. In my book, a day when women finally have bodily autonomy and people are allowed to marry regardless of their gender is not a dark day at all. It’s one of the brightest days in Northern Ireland’s history.