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(Hoping that) Women Hurt: regret as a tool of advocacy

Two weeks ago, Irish parliamentarians were invited to a presentation on the subject of “abortion regret”. While the invitation didn’t explicitly advocate for the continued illegality of abortion, no one could fail to recognise its underlying agenda: firstly because it came from Senator Rónán Mullen, who’s barely known for anything else, and secondly because the featured speaker, Julia Holcomb, is a spokesperson for Silent No More, a self-described “project of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life”. Holcomb was there not only to share her own unhappy story, but to convince Irish politicians of the need to maintain our near-absolute ban on abortion, in an attempt to prevent others from experiencing the same regret.

This campaign is one example of what Yale Law Professor Reva Siegel calls “woman-protective anti-abortion argument” – a strategic shift away from the foetus fetishism that has traditionally defined the right-to-life movement, to centring the pregnant woman in its message by portraying abortion as contrary to her best interests. We’ve seen this in Ireland before, with billboard campaigns by Youth Defence (“abortion tears her life apart”) and Women Hurt, a sort of home-grown version of Silent No More.

At the same time, we’re seeing the emergence of a new anti-sex work campaign led by women who describe themselves as “survivors of prostitution”. Like Julia Holcomb, they have the patronage of people whose stance is an ideological one, unrelated to any regret a woman who had that experience might feel. Her trauma is incidental to these people, and instrumentalised by them, but it’s no doubt very real to her and she has every entitlement to share it.

Regret can be a useful element in a cautionary tale, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with suggesting that a woman think carefully about how she might feel about a decision later on. But as an argument for prohibitory legislation, it’s extremely problematic. And I’m not just talking about the logical inconsistency of banning some things that women might regret but not others (marriage, tattoos, Tequila shots); or banning things that some women might regret but not others; or banning things that women do when they’re illegal anyway (the women of Women Hurt all evaded the prohibition by going to England; many self-described survivors of prostitution worked in a criminalised setting). The idea that regret is, in and of itself, a reason to legally constrain women’s actions is conceptually flawed, paternalistic and degrading. It’s grounded in age-old sexist nonsense about women needing choices to be made for us, as unreasonable, feeble-minded creatures who need protection from the dangers we pose to ourselves. If “to err is human”, what does that say about people who can’t be allowed to err?

There’s another thing that bothers me about it, and that’s how the traumatised-woman-as-poster-girl creates a need for more traumatised women. The women who don’t regret their abortion or sex work threaten to undermine the effectiveness, as an advocacy tool, of those who do; thus, they must be silenced, discredited, or worse still, recruited. I say “worse still” because recruiting them often involves persuading them that they were traumatised all along and didn’t know it. Real-life examples are the woman who speaks unapologetically about her abortion and is invited to receive “counselling” from an anti-abortion agency, the sex worker who takes advantage of “exiting” services when she decides it’s time to move on and finds herself subjected to re-education programmes that recast her experience as abusive when she didn’t see it that way.

Advocates of these methods insist that the woman has merely been in denial, that they’re helping her come to terms with her hidden trauma in order to heal her. But there’s something deeply troubling about taking a person who’s at ease with her past and turning her into a victim. It would be bad enough if this were done in the genuine albeit misguided belief that it would ultimately help her, but it isn’t. It’s done to advance an agenda, and that’s unconscionable.

The bottom line is this. When someone says they don’t regret their abortion or their sex work, or anything else that some people find traumatising, then, absent real (and individualised) evidence to the contrary, there’s really only one acceptable response. It’s along the lines of “That’s great, I’m glad that you’re OK with your experience.” Anything else amounts to wishing trauma on someone – and it’s a short hop from there to thinking they deserve trauma for making a choice you disapprove of. It’s a hateful, nasty, punitive approach, and it’s incompatible with any genuine concern for the welfare of the women in question.

 

 

 

Bi+ Ireland Upcoming Events

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Hello, my lovely bisexual, pansexual and queer readers! If you’re in or around Ireland in the next week or two, Bi+ Ireland have been busy organising meetups in (literally) all four corners of the country. If you’re anywhere under the nonmonosexual/romantic umbrella and in this part of the world, we’d love to have you along. If you’re not, though? I’d appreciate it a ton if you could share the events and let people know about them.

And before I go, remember: Bi+ Ireland isn’t just our public page and events! We have a thriving worst-keptsecret FB discussion group as well- just send us a PM for an invite.

Here’s the details:

OCT 17: Bi+ Ireland October Meetup Dublin

Accents Cafe in Dublin, Ireland 19:00

(FB Event Page)

OCT 17: Bi+ Ireland October Meetup Galway

The Secret Garden Galway in Galway, Ireland 20:00

(FB Event Page)

OCT 18: Bi+ Ireland Belfast October meetup

Queen’s Arcade in Belfast, United Kingdom 15:30

(FB Event Page)

OCT 25: Bi+ Ireland October Cork meetup

Bodega Cork in Cork, Ireland 15:00

(FB Event Page)

Boundaries, Thresholds and Love: Why it’s time to take back ‘bi’.

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One of the most important divisions within how bi+ people navigate and experience relationships is not between whether the people we date are men or women- it’s whether they’re queer or straight. Queer/LGBTQ culture, with its DIY attitude towards gendered roles in relationships and with our common experiences of self-discovery, coming out, and being out, is its own particular thing. It’s a set of shared understandings, and gay people pretty much always have that in common with partners. Bi+ people? Not necessarily. And so much of queer cultures were created as a different way of thinking about and doing relationships more-or-less in opposition to heteronormativity. But as bi+ people, whether or not we come from within queer cultures and ways of doing relationships, our lives are often defined by our relationships happening both within and outside those cultures. Some of the people we love (of all different genders!) will be queer. Some of the people we love will be straight and will not have had- or may not understand at all- queer experiences and their significance. But we still have, and those relationships don’t take from the experiences that we have had and who they have made us.

We occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. We are forced into a binary.

And then we go outside.

The rest, over at Consider the Tea Cosy.

Abortion in Medieval Ireland

Originally posted on Perceptions of Pregnancy:

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post is contributed by Gillian Kenny, a Research Associate at the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Abortion (or the lack of it) is back in the news in Ireland again following reports that a woman who claimed to be suicidal was denied an abortion and instead gave birth by caesarean at 25 weeks. The roots of lay and clerical anti-abortionism in Ireland would appear to be a modern phenomenon as medieval sources indicate a country in which abortion could be seen as a less severe offence by clerics, for example, than bearing an unwanted child or committing ‘fornication’.[1] In the middle ages women commonly underwent abortions…

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On RTE’s Disrespect and the Camogie Final

Originally posted on Pursued By A Bear:

Today I watched the All-Ireland Camogie Final between Cork and Kilkenny. It was a fantastic game, with great skill on display from both sides and all the high-octane drama you associate with the sport. A great occasion, all in all, and Cork proved worthy winners in the end. This was, however, no thanks to the media coverage, and RTE’s handling of the event in particular.

I tweeted earlier today, wondering why there’s no Up For The Match programme on the eve of the camogie final. I mean, we all *know* the reason, but does it have to be so? The inevitable retort would probably be something along the lines of, “well, the level of interest isn’t there”, or “the game isn’t high-profile enough”. Sorry, but that’s not good enough. The game isn’t high profile enough, you say-do you see how you could easily remedy that? Give the game the platform…

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Direct Provision: Sex Work Is Not The Problem

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This week here in Ireland, reports have come to light that women living in direct provision centres have been engaged in survival sex work.

Some context, for those of you unfamiliar with Ireland’s asylum processes:

When people come to Ireland seeking asylum, they are housed in what’s called “direct provision” until their cases are heard. Direct provision is a system where food and accommodation are provided to a person, and they are given a small allowance to live on. Doesn’t seem too terrible at first glance- who wouldn’t want to be given a place to live and 3 meals a day?

It turns out, though, that direct provision isn’t exactly what you’d call cushy. Having no control over the food you eat or when you eat it- and don’t forget, direct provision centres are run by private contractors looking to make a profit, and there is no profit in ensuring that people have access to decent food. If you can’t stomach the food, being barred from making or eating food in your own room. Add to that having no privacy- asylum seekers have to share rooms, either with complete strangers or with an entire family crowded into a single room. Throw in curfews, and being barred from working to support yourself, earn money, or simply pass the time. And doing it all with a measly €19.10 allowance, or €9.60 for children, for everything else that you might need. Imagine trying to live your life on that, or raise your kids and do your best to provide them with some sort of liveable existence.

The direct provision system was set up as a temporary measure, to house people for a few months at most while their asylum claims were being processed. As of this year, 59% of residents have been living in direct provision for over three years, and 9% for more than seven years. 

There are more people in direct provision in Ireland than in our prisons. Asylum seekers, unlike prisoners, have done nothing wrong. And asylum seekers, unlike prisoners, live with no certainty over how long it will be before their wait is over, or whether it will end in freedom or deportation.

It’s grim. So grim that residents have recently been hunger-striking to protest the conditions they’re forced to live in.

In the midst of all this, Ireland’s Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald claims to be “shocked” to hear that women in direct provision are engaging in sex work to make ends meet. Responding to these reports, she’s said that she “certainly [doesn't] want to see any woman in Ireland feeling that the only option for her is prostitution in order to look after her family.” She then went on to discuss calls to criminalise clients of sex workers in Ireland, “watching how Scandinavian countries had handled the issue”, and that ” she would be bringing legislation to Cabinet in the near future”.

Can we talk about how profoundly backwards this is? Not just a little backwards. It’s not that the cart is before the horse here. It’s that the horse has never, in fact, even met the cart. The horse is hanging out in a field somewhere in the countryside and the cart is stuck in a stairwell in an apartment block in a city on a completely different continent to the horse.

Shocked?

Let’s start at the beginning: nothing shocking has happened here.

Aaaaand to read the rest, head on over to the original post at Consider the Tea Cosy. 

To them, we are nothing but vessels

A young non-Irish woman with limited English and precarious residency status, discovered she was eight weeks pregnant as a result of what the Sunday Times have reported as a “traumatic rape.” Due to her legal status in Ireland she could not freely travel abroad in order to access an abortion so immediately applied to have a termination in Ireland under the new legislation, stating that she was suicidal at the prospect of carrying the foetus to term. Like Savita Halappanavar and Bimbo Onanuga, she is another woman from outside of Ireland who has been completely failed by the Irish medical system.

Three doctors declared that the woman was suicidal under the panel formed under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in January. The legislation states that medical practitioners may authorise an abortion where “there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the pregnant woman’s life from a physical illness or by way of suicide” but they must have “regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable.” The Act does not set out timelines during which decisions should be made by these panels, or when abortions should be performed if granted under this law. To insert a timeline in that law, giving the applicant some clarity, would have been too generous a gift for the women of Ireland by the Irish government. The panel of three doctors said that despite the fact she was suicidal, it would be better to wait until the foetus was viable for delivery instead of performing an abortion. She went on hunger and liquid strike in response. People do not enter in to hunger strike lightly; It is a last resort attempt by people seeking redress when the politics of despair have left them with nothing else to fight with but their own bodies.

The HSE in turn, sought an emergency order at the High Court on the 2nd of August which would allow it to forcibly hydrate the woman on the grounds that they wanted to protect her life and the life of the foetus which she did not wish to carry. It further sought orders that would allow them to carry out other procedures related to her pregnancy. The woman was represented by her lawyers, and the foetus was also represented by its own legal team. The Irish courts have already stated that it is a medical practitioner who is entitled to make decisions concerning the pregnancy, and not the woman herself. The law goes far beyond preventing a pregnant woman from having an abortion in circumstances where her life is not at risk. The Irish law is designed so that a person who is pregnant no longer has any say over what happens their body whether it concerns continuing the pregnancy itself, the location in which you wish to give birth or whether you will hydrate yourself or not.

Last month in Geneva, the chair of the UN Human Rights Committee said that Irish law on abortion treats women as a “vessel and nothing more.” Once you are pregnant in Ireland, you become property of the state and your own wishes are irrelevant.

On the 3rd of August, this young, suicidal rape victim, having gone through two court hearings seeking an abortion and an unknown number of medical interrogations by a panel of three doctors, underwent a caesarean section in an Irish hospital at approximately 24-26 weeks gestation. Preserving human life as far as practicable in their eyes required performing a c-section on a woman while she was around six months pregnant, despite the fact that she had been raped, was suicidal, had gone on hunger and thirst strike and had asked for an abortion repeatedly from eight weeks on.

The implications of this are horrifying. It has sent a clear message to women in Ireland that if you are suicidal and seek an abortion which you are constitutionally entitled to, you run the risk of medical practitioners compelling you to wait until the foetus is viable and then having a c-section forcibly performed on you. This woman was in a very vulnerable position given the multiple traumas she had endured. It is the stuff of nightmares. There are other women who are suicidal as a result of pregnancy and access abortion services because they have the means and support to travel. Some contact Women on Web and some contract the Abortion Support Network. Some will borrow money from friends. Those who don’t have internet or phone access to make appointments or ability to leave the country, or money to pay, and will take other steps. Some will borrow from money-lenders, others might throw themselves down stairs. But those who are pregnant and suicidal will not go to these panels, the risk is too great.

We do not know the full facts of this particular case because the media are restricted from reporting in full. However, we do know that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act has not resolved the issue of not being able to access an abortion even if you are suicidal in Ireland. Three doctors said this woman was suicidal, but apparently this was not the right kind of suicidal for the purposes of the Act, and because a c-section was available then she could have that instead of a lawful termination.

It begs the question of what type of ‘suicidal’ will allow you to have a legal abortion in this jurisdiction and as long as the Eighth Amendment remains in the Constitution, there will be women travelling, dying and undergoing forced c-sections for want of an abortion within Ireland. There is no clarity as to what the scope of “practicable” actions are in order to prevent a woman from having an abortion under the cloak of “protecting the life of the unborn.”

Years ago, I had a conversation on facebook with someone who was anti-choice and was quite forthright in his views that women should be prevented from having abortions at all costs, even if they were suicidal and it required locking them up in specially designed pregnancy gulags under 24 hour suicide watch. It is a frightening vista but not totally unrealistic. Those on the anti-choice side will of course say the term “gulag” is hysterical, but if you were a pregnant suicidal rape victim, who wanted an abortion, and was in hospital on a court-ordered drip having an effectively forced c-section under threat of a court order, faced with the prospect of a 14 year jail sentence if you induce your own miscarriage, it just might feel pretty gulag-esque. You just might even etch “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” on a wall.

To them, we are nothing but vessels.

Repeal the 8th.

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