Women’s bodies not considered their own


By Allison Morris (for Irish News)

Earlier this year a pregnant woman was arrested in Sudan and sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity.

Mariam Yahya Ibrahim was kept prisoner and forced to give birth in horrific circumstances while in captivity.

There were protests around the world, political condemnation and after much diplomatic negotiation the woman was finally released and is now living with her family in the United States.

More recently a vulnerable young woman who had fled a war-torn country to escape persecution discovered she was pregnant, believed to be as result of a rape.

She was refused a termination and attempted to take her own life.

When the authorities refused to recognise her plight she took the drastic action of engaging in a hunger and thirst strike.

The regime in question received court-ordered authority to force feed her to sustain the unwanted pregnancy until they were able to remove the child from her womb by caesarian section.

This didn’t happen in Sudan but in Ireland in 2014. The woman in question is a victim of a state still seemingly heavily influenced by religion that treats vulnerable women not as human beings but as second-class baby makers.

Mainly male, religious fundamentalists make laws that dictate what a woman is permitted to do with her body.

The kind of treatment of women that the west often refers to when they fancy invading an Islamic country to strip them of assets or to demonise the Muslim faith.

The woman at the centre of this latest scandal is believed to be a victim of repression and rape who was abused at home and then again in the country she sought sanctuary.

With the facts of the case still emerging, the Republic’s health minister Leo Varadkar has asked people to wait until all the details of the case are known before jumping to conclusions.

But whatever the circumstances this woman is still a victim, as is her child who is currently battling the health complications that inevitably come with such an early birth. If he /she survives being born at a mere 24 weeks, a life in the care of the Irish state awaits. We can only hope the child is placed in a loving and stable home.

However, as history has shown, Ireland has a shameful record in looking after children born in such wretched circumstances.

Many died of neglect in mother and baby homes and of those that survived they were shown not Christian love and kindness but abused and labelled with the stigma of being a ‘sinner’ by people in no position to judge others.

The death two years ago of Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway prompted a global outcry.

Doctors refused the termination of a pregnancy that was unsustainable and the dentist originally from India died of septicaemia.

Her death prompted the promise of long-awaited modernisation and clarification of legislation. That system and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act has now failed at the first real test.

Only the most callous of person would promote such an emotionally and physically demanding operation as an alternative to contraception.

And having known the joy and happiness children with disabilities have brought to my own family, nor would I advocate termination as some sort of genetic engineering.

However, in the case of Sarah Ewart who was denied an abortion after being told her child had a foetal abnormality and would not survive outside the womb being forced to carry until full term, is barbaric.

Ms Ewart had to travel to England to have the procedure carried out privately, away from the care of her family at the most traumatic time in her life. Her story was covered by the BBC’s Nolan Show and prompted a review of the law.

In cases of rape and incest to tell a woman who has been the victim of a horrific crime that she must continue with an unwanted pregnancy amounts to further abuse.

To allow hundreds of distressed young women to make a lonely journey across the Irish Sea every year because they have been denied proper care in their own country is shameful.

The key here is choice and as the law stands women on either side of the Irish border do not have a choice.

Should they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy for whatever reason, their bodies are not considered their own.

Their health and mental welfare is cast aside as they are reduced to little more than incubators for a state which is happy to bring unwanted children into the world but not invest in looking after them once they arrive.

If those who campaign and support such draconian laws cared as much as they profess for the unwanted children of poverty-stricken teenage mums there would be no need for children’s homes. Instead of standing outside clinics harassing and abusing distressed young women why don’t they adopt or foster those unwanted children? Surely that would be the more Christian thing to do.

The last time I mentioned women’s reproductive rights I was sent pictures in the post of dead foetuses by some nice person who unsurprisingly decided to remain anonymous.

In case you’re reading, if that’s the best argument you can come up with to deny women their rights, I’m deeply unimpressed - so save yourself a first class stamp this time.

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© 2014 Irish Republican News