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Vote Yes, for those who can’t

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Guest post by Magda Jasinka of Dziewuchy Dziewuchom Irlandia

I guess I am coming somewhat late into the “game” but I couldn’t quite figure out how I could have my voice heard on the 25th May. I am living in Ireland and unfortunately don’t have the privilege of voting in matters that quite frankly could one day affect me and thouseands of others. I’ve decided therefore to share with you this little piece of my mind in aid of the Together for Yes campaign and also and very much so in hope that it might change someone’s mind to vote YES or to vote at all.

After making the decision to come to Ireland which was influenced almost entirely by some sort of a “promise” of a better life and more possibilities to succeed in many different aspects of life that have become important to me throughout those years. Being only 19 and feeling that my own country has somehow failed me and betrayed me I found comfort and a shelter in Ireland which in years to come I would call my home. I do however feel that much like where I am from, the 8th amendment has failed so many women and for this I am resentful. I can’t understand why someone would vote NO as somehow they cannot see that their vote is causing another woman’s trauma. I also can’t understand  that for some reason people think they have the right to take away a woman’s choice concerning her own body. I hate the fact that I’d have more bodily autonomy after my death as I’d have a choice to become an organ donor than I would have now if I became pregnant.

What I do find most outrageous as a female is the uncertainty yet predictable nature of the faith of offenders who by inflicting life threatening wounds to a pregnant woman can potentially get away with murder, quite literally actually as they most likely would face a manslaughter rather than a murder charge. Murder occurs if a person intended to kill, or cause serious injury to another PERSON, who dies as a result and whilst a scenario involving a death of a foetus by injuries caused by another person has not yet been heard by the Irish courts, the British case of AG’s Reference (No. 3 of 1994) [1997] 3 WLR 421 would become a valid precedence for the Irish courts in such circumstances. In AG’s Reference (No. 3 of 1994), a boyfriend (B) stabbed his girlfriend (G), who then prematurely gave birth to the child (S). S was injured by the stab wounds inflicted upon him by B and died after 121 days after being prematurely born. It was held that B could not be convicted of murder as he could physically not form an intention to kill or seriously injure S. The House of Lords stated that “until she had been born alive and acquired a separate existence, she could not be the victim of homicide”. The common law jurisprudence would suggests that only an independently living, self-sufficient human being can become a victim of murder and there is no authority in any common law jurisdiction to suggest that a foetus is considered an independently living and self-sufficient human being. In a further attempt to secure the murder charge, the prosecution tried to apply the doctrine of transferred malice which states that when the intention to harm one individual inadvertently causes another person to be hurt instead, the perpetrator is still held responsible for his acts. However in AG’s Reference (No. 3 of 1994) the House of Lords held that to transfer the malice directed at foetus initially and then hypothetically from a foetus to a born child with legal personality was described as legally too far to support a murder charge against B. As such, B was charged and convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 7 years in prison. To put it into perspective a woman who is found guilty of the offence of intentionally destroying unborn human life under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 will face up to 14 years in prison. Where is the justice here?

I guess what I would really like is for someone to read this and choose to trust women and protect life that the 8th Amendment has failed to do.

 

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Respect motherhood. Vote Yes.

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​Some of my best friends are mothers. I have to admit, I don’t envy them. I know they love their children, that they bring a lot of joy into their lives. I know if I had children I would feel that way too. But I also know that they had to give up a lot to become mothers, more than I would ever be happy to give up.

“Happy” is the wrong word, actually, because it seems that most of my friends are anything but happy about the price they’ve paid for motherhood. If anything, the ones who are co-parenting (at least with a man) are angrier about this than the single mams, because the fathers always promise more than they deliver. I listen as they share their frustration and resentment at how he still assumes the primary parenting and household duties to be hers; still feels entitled to aspects of his pre-parenthood life that she has long since resigned to the dustbin of her own past; expects praise and gratitude and a Dad of the Century award when he remembers to “help out”.

Added to this are the negative impacts that motherhood has had on her prospects for employment or promotion. The resentment she senses from female co-workers without children, who she suspects of seeing her reduced hours and frequent absences as a kind of special treatment. The barely concealed disdain from male co-workers, who she thinks see these things as evidence of lack of commitment to the job. Some of these male co-workers have children themselves, of course, but rarely have to prioritise their children over their work. That’s what their wives are for.

Then, too, there are the physical effects of childbirth [CN: obstetric trauma]. There’s a lot more of these than you probably know if you’ve never had children yourself, and as far as I can tell, none of them are good. Stretch marks, caesarean scars, vaginal laxity, hair loss, haemorrhagic periods, urinary incontinence – these are just the more common ones, the ones you can look forward to if you have a normal birth. If you’re one of the lucky ones. If you’re not, you could find yourself with a third or fourth degree perineal tear, pelvic organ prolapse, rectovaginal fistula, faecal incontinence, or Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction which, in particularly bad cases, leads to permanent reliance on mobility aids. Did you know spontaneous symphysiotomy is a thing? Neither did I, until I met a woman who had one.

If these injuries themselves are not lifelong (and many are), the psychological effects of them usually will be – and not just on the woman. They’ve destroyed marriages. They’ve also complicated mothers’ relationships with their children. One woman I know told me of her lifelong sense of guilt for not being able to bond with her baby properly – she was so injured by his birth that she couldn’t hold him. Other women speak of feeling some resentment towards the child themselves. They say this hesitantly, and often with enormous shame; aren’t they supposed to think “a healthy baby is all that matters”? Then they always feel the need to add the disclaimer that they love their child and don’t wish they hadn’t had it, they just wish things had gone differently. No doubt many of them mean this, but we’ll never know how many don’t. The mother who wishes she’d never had children is the one voice that is completely silent in the Repeal debate, just as she is everywhere else.

And then of course there are the women whom childbirth actually kills. Nowadays (though this wasn’t always the case) it’s usually medical negligence that’s to blame, but the outcome for the woman is the same. Ireland may be a relatively safe place to have a baby but that doesn’t change the fact that every year, a number of women die in our maternity hospitals – nor the fact that every woman who brings a pregnancy to term takes the risk of becoming one of those statistics.

This is what listening to women who are mothers has taught me: Motherhood is risky. Motherhood is difficult. Motherhood is sometimes life-threatening. It is always life-changing. Most of these changes are profound, though few are recognised as such, especially the bad ones.

When women have abortions for “social” reasons, when Yes campaigners call for legalisation without restriction as to reason, it is not, as the No campaign claims, because we take abortion “lightly”. It’s because we take motherhood seriously. We understand what it entails, and know that it should never be forced on someone who isn’t prepared to take it on. When No campaigners portray motherhood as no more than a minor inconvenience – or, worse yet, as a suitable penalty for “mis”behaviour – they belittle every woman who has ever sacrificed an important part of her life in order to have a child.

My own mother was already a mother when she had me. She knew it was no picnic. She held an MSc which wasn’t put to use again for many years after my siblings and I were born. She could have had a legal abortion in the place where we were living. Of course, I am grateful she didn’t. But I am also thankful for her that she had the choice. Done under duress, I can’t imagine how much harder her job would have been.

For all that Irish society purports to revere motherhood, the problem is we don’t really respect it.  The myriad of ways that that needs to change are, for the most part, a subject for another blog post (I’ll just leave “proper remuneration” here for now). But we can take a big step very quickly by taking compulsory motherhood out of our Constitution – recognising it as too important a role to impose on the unready or unwilling.

Respect motherhood. Vote Repeal.

Open letter to Judge McMahon on #repealthe8th

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A reply to this letter to the Irish Times last week. The IT has not published it, so we are happy to do so.

A Chara,

The hypocrisy of former Justice Bryan McMahon (‘The Eighth Amendment’, Letters, May 4th) in calling for the retention of the 8th Amendment cannot go unremarked. McMahon’s strong urging of a ‘No’ vote suggests that he has forgotten the recommendations of the working group on Direct Provision that he presided over just a few years ago that urged quite the opposite. The McMahon report “strongly urges” that arrangements be made to enable women in Direct Provision experiencing crisis pregnancies to access proper supports including provisions for travel abroad, presumably to access abortion services. The McMahon report is very clear on this. It recommends “that a review by the relevant organisations of services for persons in the system experiencing a crisis pregnancy be undertaken immediately with a view to a protocol being agreed to guide State agencies and NGOs supporting such persons. Particular attention should be paid to addressing the needs of the individual in the context of the legislative framework. Issues relating to travel documents, financial assistance, confidentiality, and access to information and support services should be addressed.”

The working group on Direct Provision and the McMahon report can be criticised on many fronts, but on this front – the need to address the terrible circumstances faced by women experiencing crisis pregnancies in Direct Provision – the report is on the right track. It is clear that horrors of the sort inflicted on Ms Y can only be addressed by removing the 8th Amendment from the constitution and making sure that ALL women and pregnant people can access the supports that they need in this country. As groups such as AIMS Ireland and MERJ – Migrant and Ethnic Minorities for Reproductive Justice have shown us through research and personal testimony, this extends beyond abortion access to the whole issue of reproductive services and health care for migrant and ethnic minority women in this state. The women who have been most affected by the 8th Amendment – the women who have died because of the 8th Amendment and the disregard for the lives of women and mothers that it has embedded in our constitution – are disproportionately migrant women. Migrant women make up 25% of pregnant people in Ireland, but account for a shocking 40% of maternal deaths. Former Justice McMahon himself is very much aware of these facts and of the terrible circumstances that can face migrant and asylum-seeking women and girls. It is to his great discredit that he has chosen to ignore this evidence and awareness in his cruel and hypocritical call for the retention of this most cruel and hypocritical aspect of this state’s constitution.

Yours, etc,

Anti-Racism Network Ireland

AIMS Ireland

Migrants and Ethnic-minorities for Reproductive Justice (MERJ)

Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI)

Let’s talk about sex

Let’s talk about sex

Guest Post by Emma C, Belfast Feminist Network

If this was a fluffy opinion piece for a Sunday supplement, I might make some sideways jokes about 5 minutes of pleasure, or someone’s turn to go ‘downstairs’ as a way of making light about this intimate, messy, universal experience. It’s everywhere, in ads, all of our films, television, books, plays, music. We let our culture mull it over but with little nuance. Yet we never really seem to be able to actually talk about it. For real.

We are in the midst of a wave of reignited feminism and its predicted backlash. We see every day in articles from across the world, the endless tales of rape, violence, maternal deaths, lack of access to safe abortions, persecution of sex workers and LGBTQ+ people. I’m utterly convinced that our inability to properly address sex; what it is, what it’s for, how it feels, when it works, when it doesn’t, what its value is, has kept us behind this hurdle of inequality.

Locally, we have been dealing with our very own Northern Ireland flavoured version of this worldwide phenomenon. A recent rape trial, abuse scandals, the lack of respect for LGBT people sex workers and women, all becomes fomented in policy and has maintained barriers to healthcare, equality and respect.

metoo

Real-talking about sex has to begin. Real sex, not biology-book sex, not biblical sex, not porn sex, but real actual sex that happens between real actual humans. Most of us have an innate drive to seek sexual pleasure and some of us are more successful in that search than others. Sex is one the issues at the crux of gender and sexuality.

Imagine you are a 12-year-old girl walking home from school in your uniform, you have just begun to develop breasts. Your hormones are beginning to go haywire, meaning your emotions are everywhere and the world seems bigger and more confusing, even though adults are beginning to make more sense. Now imagine that as you are walking home, car horns beep at you regularly, when you turn to look to see who they are honking at and realise that it’s you, you see men the same age as your father and you blush a deep red as you’re not quite sure how to react. Then imagine that with every passing few months there are more comments in the street, from young men hanging around in groups, from waiters, from family friends, even from school teachers, about your slowly changing appearance.

This is the beginning of the onslaught. This unwelcome and unwarranted attention is never spoken about to the young people that experience it. This is when men, and the women, trans people and gay men that they objectify begin to learn about consent. We are being taught from a young age that it is okay to be publicly sexualised, by men; older men, younger men, men in positions of power, strangers and there is really nothing we can do about it.

Many of us will have seen the declarations from various pious lampposts around this wee country that, “ THE WAGES OF SIN ARE DEATH”, yet we know from our national stance on abortion, access to contraception, and sex work that actually if the so-called sin is a sexual one between a ‘straight’ man and another person, it’s the other person who has to bear the brunt of that particular exchange.

Consensual sex is categorically not a sin. Well, except if you are a woman (and trans person and gay man and sex worker). Then of course it is a sin. You are a slut, unlike the man, who will probably be a legend (to himself), we all know this, we understand this paradox and yet we all maintain it, despite the harm it causes. Street harassment is the thin end of the wedge of our rape culture. RAPE CULTURE, a description that so many baulk at, yet we live in a society where somehow a woman should automatically be embarrassed about having a threesome and a man can be glorified amongst his mates. According to solicitors, the shame of a threesome could lead a young woman to take a lengthy and unnecessary court case against someone to save face… whereas leaving someone crying hysterically and bleeding internally after a sexual encounter is perfectly acceptable. A top tip for any man planning a threesome: if someone starts bleeding, best to call it a day, at the very least you aren’t doing it right and at the worst you might be raping someone.
We know that what a person wears, drinks, eats, how they get home, and what previous sexual history they have should have absolutely zero to do with whether or not they get raped, yet on and on we see victim blaming from legal experts, from prurient press, from anyone quick to judge with access to a social media account.

Expecting everyone who is not a straight cis man to pay for the sin of sex is why abortion is such a controversial topic as well. It’s got little to do with little cute babies and everything to do with women and pregnant people facing the consequences. “She should have kept her legs shut” “She should have to take responsibility for her mistake” “She should have thought about that before whoring around” – all things that are frequently said in some shape or form – it’s abortion’s own form of blaming, with a human to look after for the rest of your life as punishment. This is despite the overwhelming majority of single parents being women, it’s despite the overwhelming majority of contraception and birth control being aimed at women and it’s despite the fact that sexual assault and rape are so common that they are endemic, and yet we don’t even get off the hook for that one, as apparently our bodies don’t even deserve freedom from someone else’s crime (if they are a man).

Whenever the onslaught of sexualisation begins, it teaches us – women, queer and trans folk, that our boundaries are unimportant. It undermines our trust as to everyone’s intentions, and most importantly it undermines our ability to trust our own instinct. Setting boundaries is an important life skill, yet attempts to develop this skill are thwarted from the start if we can’t even tell strangers on the street not to comment on the shape of our ‘tits’ when we are still children.

Forgotten in all of this is that sex is supposed to be pleasurable, people shouldn’t get internal lacerations from consensual sex, unless it’s something they have specifically requested. Our concept of virginity is outdated as well, why is the only important thing when a penis enters a vagina? There are so many more ways of having sex, and not just for queer people. Sex is better when it is about reciprocal pleasure, you need to be able to say to the person that you’re having sex with, ‘yes that’s working or no that’s not working, can you do it more like this?’ However we are having sex in a society that doesn’t allow space for conversations about that.

We can be on the BBC talking about murderers, about complicated political ideas, about tragedies faced by families dealing with a variety of crises, but we are unable to talk about sex openly. We can’t address it, we are too scundered, even though that embarrassment creates a void that leads to our young people being educated by the internet; by the most popular types of porn which debase women, people of colour and trans people.

Popular porn is what we are offering to our culture instead of real conversations about pleasure. Young people are divided by gender for sex education, which is largely provided for by religious organisations. It’s no coincidence that the same organisations that are against contraception and abortions, are against LGBT people and sex before marriage.

If we let these people misinform our children, our offspring will look somewhere else instead, for something that more closely reflects the real lives they live than the prim fantasies that abstinence-only, anti LGBT sex education provides.

Not only have we no adequate ways to punish and re-educate young men with monstrous ideas about what women are (less than human receptacles for sperm and babies) but we are enabling them from children to become this way.

If we want our future to be safer and happier for the next generations, then we have to make actual changes to our sex education. We have to stigmatise talking about women and others as less than human and not stigmatise women having sex. We have to teach people that there is no pleasure without consent and that consent is the lowest bar. We have to be prepared to call out ‘banter’ if it demeans anyone because of the type of sex they have. We have to stand up to the tiny minority of bigoted bullies that get their voices amplified too often.

Everyone knows someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted, everyone knows someone who has had an abortion or crisis pregnancy, we just need to learn to put on our grown-up pants and talk about these things properly and with respect before any more generations are harmed by our wilful negligence.

– Emma C

Belfast Feminist Network

 

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Happy St Brigid’s Day – Ireland’s first abortionist

[This post originally appeared on the Choice Ireland blogspot]

Ireland’s only female patron saint, Brigid of Kildare, celebrates her feast day today, February 1st. A date that is traditionally the first day of spring, and chosen presumably because of the associations St Brigid has with fertility. She was a conglomeration of the pre-Christian goddesses that preceded her – a Celtic figure appropriated by the Church to boost pagan conversion. She was subsequently ousted in favour of the patriarchal figure of St Patrick and the impossible virgin-mother Mary.

While many will know that Brigid is a patron of healing, fertility and learning, the Church are not so quick to tell us she was in fact Ireland’s first recorded abortionist. In 650 AD a biographer of Brigid, Cogitosus, told the story of a young woman who had broken her vow of chastity and fell pregnant as a result. The young woman went to see Brigid, who took care of the problem:

Brigid, exercising with the most strength of her ineffable faith, blessed her, caused the fetus to disappear without coming to birth, and without pain.

Today, of course, Brigid would be excommunicated for this ‘miracle’, which explains why this particular biographical sketch does not appear in any of the annals of history sanctioned by the Church. It is well documented in detail in the original writings of Cogitosus and yet it conveniently remains absent from modern translations. In the 7th century, Brigid performed an abortion on a young woman. This was perfectly acceptable in the eyes of the Church then and her ability to ’cause the fetus to disappear’ was considered nothing short of a miracle. If she lived today, Pope Benedict XVI would tell us that she was ‘co-operating in evil’. How times change.

Current Church teaching on this is a manifestation of patriarchy. Just as ‘Saint Brigid’ is an embodiment of goddesses past, the story of her kindness in helping another woman reflects what women have been doing for each other since time began – privately, and with love and consideration. A woman’s autonomy over her own life and body should not be crushed in order to achieve a moral or religious goal. This is something that Brigid herself acknowledged, and the Church would do well to remember – before labelling those who support the modern equivalent to the actions Brigid took as the ‘gravest injustice’. It is time to take the rosaries away from ovaries and today remember just who St Brigid was – Ireland’s first abortionist.

On pregnant women and disabled children, in a society that cares for neither

For as long as I can remember, women have been warned to adjust our behaviour – before and during pregnancy (as if there was no third option) – to keep us from having disabled children. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Don’t get pregnant after 40. Take folic acid. The need to prevent the birth of disabled children has become such a societal imperative that women have found themselves harassed for having a glass of wine while pregnant, refused service, criminalised, and even sterilised to achieve this goal. The message that underlies all this is clearly one of the undesirability of disability (as well, of course, of it being the woman’s fault).

Obviously there’s a difference between trying to prevent disability in an otherwise healthy pregnancy, and terminating the pregnancy you actually have because of a disability. But that difference isn’t captured by many of the arguments we’re hearing from the anti-repeal side, which talk about birth rates for children with Down Syndrome in Iceland and solemnly warn about a future with no disabled children, in language appropriating the Holocaust. Their stats about Iceland are wrong, as we know, but what if they were right – and what if the reason they were right was not because of high abortion rates where DS was detected, but because of health or lifestyle changes that helped diminish the incidence of DS pregnancies in the first place? Would they be out protesting folic acid suppliers for their role in the genocide of disabled children?

Of course they wouldn’t, and this most of all is what bothers me about the use of children with Down Syndrome in anti-abortion campaigns. It’s a sort of fetishisation of disability, something they would otherwise find deeply undesirable, something they would actually put women in prison to prevent. I’m aware of course that people with disabilities have their own – non-homogeneous – views about their disabilities (no doubt deeply influenced by the barriers society places in front of them, something anti-choicers show little concern about) but that’s not the place where the anti-repeal leaders are coming from. Especially when you know they’d be the first to criticise women for not doing pregnancy right.

Damned if we do have disabled children, damned if we don’t. Almost as if it’s not really about the children at all.

 

With thanks to Danielle and Beth

Abortion on demand and without apology

Pro-choicers: does the above sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you need to learn your fucking history. This was a slogan of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, a movement that succeeded in greatly broadening access to abortion for women in the US and UK.

Sadly, it seems that the legacy of these older feminists’ activism has indeed been forgotten in Ireland. These days, when you hear a pro-choice activist speak the words “abortion on demand”, most of the time it’s for the purpose of denying that this is our objective at all. Even worse, the slogan has been actively disparaged by the Irish pro-choice movement as if it was a slur dreamed up by the Iona press office, with people who really ought to know better describing it as an “awful” phrase, as “stupid”, as “nonsense”.

To which I have to ask: if we aren’t fighting for abortion on demand, what is our fight all about?

The meaning of “on demand” isn’t particularly complicated or controversial, at least in any other context. The Oxford definition is “as soon as or whenever required“. Cambridge Dictionary has it as “at any time that someone wants or needs something“. Collins states “as soon as requested“.  Other dictionaries may use slightly different wording, but they’re all expressing one or both of two simple concepts: unconditional access, and access without delay.

This is, of course, precisely what abortion rights campaigners are seeking – and contrary to what some have suggested, it’s also precisely what is meant by those who say they don’t support “abortion on demand”. They mean they want to preserve a system in which women must get permission before being allowed an abortion, if indeed we’re allowed at all. They don’t object to abortion on demand because they think it will mean abortion hen parties; they object because they think access should be controlled and limited to what they consider “deserving” cases.

Some pro-choice objections to the slogan seem to think it conjures images of women doing a Veruca Salt outside the abortion clinic. This is simply confusing different meanings of the word “demand”. Demand for abortion no more implies demanding abortions than “the demand for” anything else necessarily implies people pounding their fists until they get it. It’s a little icky to conceptualise abortion as an economic service, but technically it is – prior to the 14th Amendment, this was a key element of the fight for the right to distribute abortion information – and in that respect it’s subject to “demand” in the same way as any other good or service. NBD, again.

The other argument I hear against the phrase is that it would have negative connotations (the hen party abortions) with that fence-sitting public we’re trying to win over. Well, sorry, but who was it that allowed those connotations to develop, if not a pro-choice movement constantly responding to the phrase by insisting that oh heavens no we’re not calling for something called abortion on demand?

To be clear (let’s see how many people miss this point), I’m not suggesting that the Repeal campaign should adopt “abortion on demand” as a slogan. A slogan is a tactic, not a principle, and as long as we’re campaigning for what abortion on demand actually is I don’t really care what we call it. But there’s a difference between not adopting a slogan, and the kind of defensive disassociation from it that the Repeal movement has engaged in. Not alone is the latter grossly ahistorical, and disrespectful to the women who went before us; it also puts us on the back foot while diverting from a real discussion about abortion accessibility in a post-repeal Ireland.

Let’s try this. Instead of going all defensive every time we hear the slogan, what if we use it as an opportunity to make our argument for unconditional access? To challenge those who wield it as a weapon to declare which women they would exclude from the right to abortion, what measures they would put in place to filter out the “undeserving” cases, how they would enforce those measures and any violation of them? This would be a far more constructive response, and would also have the advantage of not handing them a microvictory by shifting into denial mode every time they say it.

But if you must continue to object to the phrase, for god’s sake do it in a way that doesn’t insult the legacy of past generations of activists. Their struggle for abortion on demand was not awful or stupid or nonsense. It paved the way for where we are today – on the cusp of liberalising one of the Global North’s last black spots for reproductive rights – and though we need not follow their exact footsteps, we owe them at least the courtesy of acknowledging the path they took.