Kate on Fourth Plinth in abortion access protest

by Jess McCabe // 8 October 2009, 11:09

F-Word contributor Kate Smurthwaite faked her way onto the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in a protest about lack of abortion access for Northern Irish women.

Here's the press release (and you can see photos here)

PRESS RELEASE: Fake plinther highlights the hurdles Northern Irish women face accessing abortions

Abortion rights campaigner and comedienne Kate Smurthwaite impersonated her way into Anthony Gormley’s exhibit One & Other on the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square Wedenesday, quite possibly becoming the world’s first living art forgery.

One & Other is an art project by the Anthony Gormley, putting up one person every hour from around the UK onto the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square from 6 July through 14 October and webcast live at http://www.oneandother.co.uk/.

This slot was originally allocated to Goretti Horgan from Alliance for Choice, the campaign for Northern Irish women to be given the right to an abortion. However, Kate Smurthwaite, at Horgan’s request, secretly took Horgan’s place.

“Of course it would take a lot of effort and cost a lot of money for Goretti to come over to be on the fourth plinth —just like the effort and expense incurred by women from Northern Ireland who are forced to travel to England, Wales and Scotland to access abortion services,” Smurthwaite said. “So we decided instead that I would go along and impersonate her.”

The staff at One & Other carefully check identification to ensure that the winners of the plinth drawing receive their spot.

Smurthwaite explained the ruse: “Goretti sent me her passport and a utility bill and luckily they were busy in the office and didn't check the photo too closely. I am also 20 years younger than Goretti so lucky they didn't check that either. I was being careful to play along but it was difficult especially since one of the women in the One & Other office was called Kate so I had to concentrate on not looking up when they called her name.”

The ruse only lasted until Smurthwaite was on the plinth because the organisers could hear her being interviewed.

“Once I was up there Goretti, the real Goretti, contacted the press in Northern Ireland about what I was doing and I did a live interview for BBC Radio 4 Ireland while I was up there.”

“I also took a toy horse along with me — since the statue on the plinth opposite the fourth plinth (the third plinth?) has a horse to sit on I figured I should blend in,” explained Smurthwaite, who is a stand up comic when she isn’t campaigning for abortion rights. “I explained several times to the cameras on the plinth about the campaign to extend the abortion act to Northern Ireland (and I had a huge banner which read "EXTEND THE ABORTION ACT TO N. IRELAND)".

Smurthwaite explained the issue, saying: “I talked about the 40 women every week who come over from Northern Ireland to have an abortion and about how abortion services which are free for residents of England, Wales and Scotland cost Northern Irish women from £600 to £2,000. A lot of money to raise at short notice. Abortion is totally illegal in Northern Ireland — even in cases of rape, incest, abuse and health risks to the mother. It's so wrong that women in certain parts of the UK should have fewer rights than others, that Northern Irish women should be treated as second class citizens. My partner David Mulholland handed out flyers explaining the message to those who had come to watch.”

The ruse took preparation. Smurthwaite said: “I'm really surprised we got away with it— I spent all week thinking someone would find me out and learning things like Goretti's phone number, date of birth and address and running through my back-story so I could explain why I didn't have an Irish accent.”

Smurthwaite added: “When I came down the team in the office seemed pretty annoyed with themselves for not spotting that I was a fake but it was all too late to do anything about it. I really hope it will generate publicity and help raise awareness for this really important cause.”
“So who am I really? I'm a stand-up comic and political campaigner,” Smurthwaite explained. “I met Goretti through my work with Abortion Rights — the UK-wide campaign for a woman's right to choose on abortion. I also write a blog called Cruella-blog: www.cruellablog.blogspot.com. And if you want to come see me perform I also list upcoming shows on there — it would be great to have you along!”

Comments From You

saranga // Posted 08 October 2009 at 12:12

That is brilliant! Kudos to all of you who pulled it off!

Jennifer Drew // Posted 08 October 2009 at 13:40

Well done to Kate and her colleagues who worked so hard in successfully pulling off direct feminist activism.

Not forgetting that Kate was able to reach many people living in Northern Ireland when she was interviewed 'live' by BBC Radio 4 Ireland.

HarpyMarx // Posted 08 October 2009 at 15:31

Really excellent, well done to Kate. Plus fantastic pix of the event!!

Sarah // Posted 08 October 2009 at 17:43

Excellent!
I signed a petition on the number 10 website. Total non-result of course.

I'm so pleased to see activism like this happen. Disgusting that women are being denied their rights in the UK

Jackie Bather // Posted 13 October 2009 at 08:47

I honestly don't know how women in Northern Ireland cope with the deeply oppressive system, which denies them abortion rights.Just a minute or two spent thinking, what it may be like to be caught up in such an arrangement, is difficult enough.I too, signed the number 10 petition, but that has disappeared into thin air.

Kellie Turtle // Posted 13 October 2009 at 18:22

Just to update - the No. 10 petition came back with the expected response that since our Assembly are currently in the process of working to have policing and justice powers devolved to Stormont then we will have to wait for that process to be completed and petition our local representatives for change. Basically, the window of opportunity has shut for now. With 2 publicly pro-choice MLAs out of 108, change is a long way off. The only thing NI politicians can agree on is that they don't want any change to abortion laws. Lobbying or protest will not change this. A legal challenge or test case might.

Zara // Posted 29 October 2009 at 22:41

As one of the women from Northern Ireland who had to travel to England and pay over 1000 pounds for an abortion I agree with all the comments. You cannot imagine how awful having to get the first flight on a Satand then the last flight back the same day is.

gadgetgal // Posted 30 October 2009 at 12:39

I remember when I got an abortion many years ago there was a young woman on the same ward as me from N. Ireland. She was the second person to go in, I was 9th (I think, couldn't really see that far down the ward but I think it was 5 on either side). By the time I came round all the women (and girls, there were a couple of young ones there) were still completely groggy and weren't going to be allowed to leave for another couple of hours. Except for her - she was up, dressed, and waiting nervously for her taxi back to the airport. Knowing what she was feeling at the time (physically at least) I was appalled. It was the first time I learned that abortion rights weren't the same for everyone across the UK regardless of where they were from.

What Kate did was amazing, and it highlighted an issue that's not brought up enough in political circles - hopefully a bit of installation art about it might make people sit up and notice. Good on her! And good luck to everyone campaigning for change!

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