I Can’t Believe I’m Still Protesting This Shit

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Part of me thinks there’s little point blogging about the current abortion story that is bothering Irish people at the moment. If you are unfamiliar with the salient points of the situation, you can read them here.

 

There has – rightly, in my opinion – been much outrage around how the young woman at the centre of this case has been treated. There are no winners in this situation – neither the woman nor her baby is better off because she was forced to continue the pregnancy (which was the result of rape) until 24 weeks. The woman herself has been violated in several ways and has had several of her human rights trampled on. But this is Ireland and, apparently, that’s perfectly legal.

 

The amount of violence that has been visited upon this woman’s body and psyche do not bear thinking about. The wars of a nation are waged on the bodies of women, and this is yet another example of that situation. Time and again I ask myself why Ireland hates women so much – why, as a nation, we hold them in such contempt. Last night, in conversation about this issue, someone said that it’s like living in Saudi Arabia. Sadly, in this instance, that’s not quite true: Women in Saudi Arabia (which was described by a former colleague of mine who used to live there as ‘the largest women’s prison in the world’) have access to safe, legal abortions. In this instance, women in Saudi Arabia are better off, treated with more respect, than women in Ireland.

 

So, my daughters and I will be taking to the streets again on Wednesday evening (join us if you can). We will be shouting about the need in Ireland for women’s bodily integrity to be respected. We will be demanding the laws around abortion in Ireland be changed. We will demand that the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution be repealed.

 

I was 17 when I first marched, in Dublin, on a Women’s Rights issue. At that time, we were clamouring just for the right of women to access information regarding abortion. It seemed so ridiculous – even then – that people could be prosecuted for giving women information about how to procure a safe, legal abortion outside this jurisdiction. It is equally ridiculous now, that women still can’t access safe, legal abortions in Ireland.

 

The last referendum on abortion was in 1983. What this means is that no one under the age of 49 has voted on the issue. What that means is that  no one on whom this legislation can impact personally has had a say in the law around it. It’s time to change that. It really is.  Because, 23 years later, I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.

No Country For Fertile Women

Oh dear, Ireland. What are you doing? What are you doing to the women who live within your jurisdiction? When will your patriarchal misogyny end? When will your tyranny wear itself out? When you start to treat women like equals? Are you completely incapable of learning from your past?

 

It is 2013 and women in Ireland are dying for the want of access to legal, safe, abortion. Savita Halappanavar is not the only woman who was treated inhumanely when she arrived at NUIG, in the early stages of a miscarriage. This is how women are treated in hospitals in Ireland.

 

We’ve been here before. Women have had to leave this country in their thousands for abortions that they cannot legally procure in Ireland. Now, in the past 48 hours, we have heard that our government is set to propose abortion legislation that will ‘allow’ women who are pregnant, a termination of that pregnancy if they are suicidal. Provided no fewer than six (six!!) consultants – two obstetricians and four psychiatrists – concur that she is, indeed, suicidal. Oh yes! And one of those psychiatrists must be a perinatal psychiatrist – of which there are only three in the country.

 

I don’t know where to begin with this one.  Do you know how difficult it is to assess suicidal ideation with any degree of certainty? To be blunt, you can only be 100% sure that someone is suicidal when they have completed suicide. Do you know how difficult it is to get six people to agree on anything? Let alone six medical consultants who bring their own moral, ideological and religious beliefs to the consultation?

 

When and how would these assessments take place?  Six different appointments with six different consultants? Or one appointment with all six? Where would the assessment/s take place? In a hospital? If so, of which variety – mental or maternity? In the woman’s home? Or somewhere else entirely?

 

Who would foot the bill? What if the woman had a medical card? Some consultants don’t see public patients.  And – have you seen the waiting lists for consultants? You could be waiting months to see one. I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s part of the plan, though. That if a woman who is four weeks pregnant has to wait six months to see a consultant, by the time she does so, it will be too late to terminate the pregnancy. Or she’ll have already killed herself, thereby relieving the consultants of calling it either way. Or, as is more likely, she’ll have taken the boat or the plane out of this jurisdiction to somewhere the laws are more humane.

 

There’s something that worries me more than this six consultants nonsense (for it is nonsense): In this country, under the 1871 Lunacy Act – which is still in force today – it takes just two doctors to decide that a person should be forcibly detained in a mental hospital. So, theoretically, a suicidal pregnant woman could present, seeking six consultants to decide whether or not they believe her (I’ll get to that in a second) and two of them could have her committed to a mental ward for the duration of her pregnancy. THAT scares me.

 

Then there’s the notion that women are devious little feckers who run off and get pregnant on a whim and then decide to fake their suicidal ideation in order to hoodwink doctors into ‘allowing’ them to have abortions. That sickens me. It speaks of how women are still infantalised in Irish society. How they are presented as generally un-trustworthy and incapable of making decisions for themselves and their families.

 

In the same vein, attendees at the Home Birth Association’s annual conference today were reminded that, should they dare to attempt to birth at home without ‘permission’ from the HSE, they can be forcibly removed from their homes by members of An Garda Siochana and brought to a hospital. Once there they be subjected to procedures that they neither want nor need – and many of which, are in fact, not evidence-based.

 

Why does Irish society fear women so much? Why does Irish society fear our wombs so much that it feels the need to control our reproductive rights?  Let’s not forget that this is the only country in the world where the CEO of a maternity hospital is called (and insists on being called) a ‘Master’.  That single fact tells us so much about how women are perceived in this country. We’ve a long way to go – and for the moment, Ireland is no country for fertile women.

 

 

Choices

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Abortion is a hot topic in Ireland and in the Irish media again. It’s 20 years since the ‘X Case’ that rocked Ireland to its core and divided the country. SPUC-ers termed themselves ‘pro-life’ as if everyone who held a different view was, somehow, ‘anti-life’ and feminists clamoured for a woman’s right to information and to choice.

The arguments often contained rhetoric like ‘you don’t know what you’d do if you were in that situation’. Or they pulled on emotional extremes like ‘what if your daughter was raped and then got pregnant?’  Well, when I was 12, I spent a few months worried that I was pregnant. It turned out I wasn’t. Years later, I learnt that one of the side-effects of the sexual abuse I suffered was that my reproductive system was so damaged, I actually couldn’t conceive until after I’d had surgery in my 20s. If I had been pregnant at that time, I’d have been pregnant by a relative as a result of rape (obviously!).

I was terrified. What would the baby be like? What would my mother say? (I knew she’d blame me). What would happen to me? This the worst case scenario that many people cite  in order to underscore how valuable abortion is – and how it should be available to women in this country. Obviously  they argue –  in this position, every woman would want an abortion.

Actually, no, they wouldn’t. Had I been pregnant, I wouldn’t have had an abortion. But that’s me. That’s my choice. I have absolutely no right to force my decision on anyone else. None.

Years later, just before I turned 30, I discovered – to my astonishment – that I was pregnant. The father of my child, as I have mentioned on this blog before, ‘suddenly remembered’ that he was married. To his cousin. Who was living in India, while he lived with me in Singapore.

I had already married and left two abusive men, and I had a 17 month old daughter from my second marriage. When I told people I was pregnant, many people assumed I’d ‘get rid of it’. At work, one of the people senior to me took me to one side and put pressure on me to have an abortion. He iterated how easy it was to have an abortion – compared to how hard it was to be a single parent.

‘And you already have a child,’ he reminded me. As if I needed reminding.

‘How much harder do you think your life is going to be with two?’ he asked.

He put a hand on my shoulder.

‘Give yourself a break,’ he counselled. ‘Have the procedure done this weekend. You’ll be back in work on Monday and no one need ever know.’

I didn’t have ‘the procedure’. I had my reasons for not wanting one – but they were my reasons. I had no right to foist my reasons on anyone else. Not then and not now. Which is why I support women’s right to choose. I support legislation that would make abortion legal in Ireland. Not just for medical reasons, either – because all that does is pit one type of woman against another. All sanctioning abortion ‘for medical reasons’ does is allow one group of women the right to choose, while removing the right to choose from another group of women.

Ireland needs to start treating women like adults; allowing them to make their own choices, and supporting them in the choices they make. Instead of, like it does now, turning away from Irishwomen who must journey overseas to have abortions for whatever reasons they make those decisions.