The Irish State’s pathological oppression of women

1408603830298.jpg-620x349In Britain there is no higher loyalty than to Queen and country.  In Ireland loyalty is to the State via the Constitution.

From high oaths to common usage it is the Queen, and by virtue of this the nation that are her subjects, that is held up as the object of allegiance.  Proclaiming loyalty to the State sounds a discordant note.

Although in Ireland there is no less promotion of nationalism this does not find expression so much in calls for allegiance to the country, certainly not to the President, perhaps more so to the nation – although that now also has subversive connotations of actually including the whole nation i.e. all 32 counties – rather it is disloyalty to the state that would see you harangued in the Dail by the establishment parties.

Fine Gael sees itself as the unique guardians of the probity and righteousness of the state, having been the party of its creation, even in its declaration as a Republic, with what it considers unequalled adherence to its laws and devout devotion to its legitimacy.  Fianna Fail has seen itself as so embodying the identity of the nation that it has in the past seen itself as the body and soul of the state so that its own laws are also the laws of the state.  That means it doesn’t matter so much if you break them.

The Labour Party can be seen as the most inoffensive party in and with respect to the State.  Republicans, who once swore to a ‘second round’ of war against the Free State now bend over backwards to swear to the legitimacy of the state’s institutions, especially its police and security service An Garda Síochána.

The left wants the state to nationalise the banks and the economy, tax the rich, spend more money, take on more powers to put people in jail – that is those nasty bankers – and pass all sorts of laws against discrimination and for equality etc.  It wants a much bigger state that is a little bit more democratic.

But this week we have witnessed another grotesque illustration of the repugnant character of the real Irish State, the one beyond the idealised phrases uttered without reflection.  In particular it is the constitution which has once again been the grounds on which the denial of women’s’ rights has been based.  This denial is a product of the State’s view of the role of women in society spelt out in Article 41 of this constitution, which states that:

“The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.  The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.  In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.  The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

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It is the State and its constitution’s treatment of women that has given display to its most cruel, repulsive and hypocritical features.  Its reactionary historical origins have imprinted on it a character that all pretensions to modern liberalism have proved unable to hide.  While capitalist development has undermined the holy foundations of the confessional state and its Catholic ethos it has done so in a manner different from that which a strong, vibrant, secular and socialist workers movement would have achieved and with different results.

The Catholic Church has lost mass-goers and much credibility but it still has patronage over the vast majority of primary schools, is still allowed to discriminate in appointing teachers and still imposes its dogmas in much medical practice.  The state it blessed, and which in turn blessed it with collusion in its violent abuse of thousands of women and children, and which paid for the cost of claims arising from this abuse, is now the primary mechanism that upholds its dogmas.

The decline in the ideological hold of the church has not been matched by its political decline and the political power it retains now owes more and more to the power of the state.  It is the State which stands more and more exposed, or should at least, as the rock upon which the oppression of women in Irish society rests, an oppression previously sanctified primarily by the Church and its institutions.

The state’s treatment of a teenage pregnant immigrant illustrates what this seemingly clichéd piece of jargon actually means.  The young woman at the centre of this latest tragedy was interviewed by Kitty Holland in ‘The Irish Times’.

The interview revealed that the young woman was refused an abortion after she had said that she had been raped, although she did not know she was pregnant until arriving in Ireland.  She was initially told she could have an abortion at 24 weeks but this subsequently changed and she delivered a baby by caesarean section.

“Yes, I would have preferred an abortion,” she said. “I was told the only way to end the pregnancy at this point would be a Caesarean . . . They said wherever you go in the world, the United States, anywhere, at this point it has to be a Caesarean.”

“I was raped in my country. I did not know I was pregnant until I came here.”  She was referred to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), where her pregnancy was confirmed.  “It was very difficult for me. I cried. I said I am not capable of going through with this. I said I could die because of this… They said to me abortion was not legal here, but people like me are sent to England for abortions . . . I asked to go and they said they would have to arrange the documents and that could take six weeks.”

“They said it is okay because I was eight weeks and four days. After that day I hoped they were going to help me. I was shown documents that were filled in, and I understood that the process was under way.”  Over the following weeks, she says, she had a number of meetings at the IFPA and although the process seemed to be in train she was told some weeks later that the estimated cost of travelling to England, having the abortion and possible overnight accommodation could be over €1,500.  An individual in the IFPA, she says, told her the State would not fund the costs.  Remember this is the State that borrowed €64,000,000,000 to bail out the banks.

“In my culture it is a great shame to be pregnant if not married . . . I didn’t even know what [the medic] was saying to me.  “I said to her, ‘I could die because of this pregnancy. I am   prepared to kill myself’.”  At this stage she was 16 weeks’ pregnant.  “I said we’re getting too far, and she said, no, in England they carry out abortions up to 28 weeks . . . She said ‘that is not the problem. The problem is the money’.  She told the journalist that by then she had decided to kill herself.

She then made contact with a family friend who advised her to go to a GP and tell them that she was suicidal because of the pregnancy.  The GP referred her to a hospital, where she saw a psychiatrist.

“She had read the report and she said to me, ‘No, you are already too far pregnant’. I cried. She asked me lots of questions and I answered them, telling her everything I felt. Around 11pm I saw another psychiatrist. I told her the same thing. I spent the night there.

‘“The next day, around 10am, I was taken in a taxi to another hospital . . . When we got there I thought they were going to help me. They brought me to a room where they did a scan and the pregnancy was 24 weeks and one day . . .They said they could not do an abortion. I said, ‘You can leave me now to die. I don’t want to live in this world anymore’.”  She said that from this point a nurse was constantly at her bedside and was always accompanied to the bathroom.’

“They knew I was going to do myself ill. From Friday I did not eat. I did not drink. For four days I didn’t drink, I didn’t eat . . . I thought that way I could die…On Monday night two doctors came, a psychiatrist and a gynaecologist, and said, ‘We are going to carry out the abortion next Monday but you have to be strong. You have to eat. You have to drink.’ I started to eat and I drank.”  A few days later she was told that the plan had changed.

“They said the pregnancy was too far. It was going to have to be a Caesarean section . . . They said wherever you go in the world, the United States, anywhere, at this point it has to be a Caesarean.

“I didn’t know if I could continue to suffer.”  She says that a number of days later, two medics told her the authorities had been made aware of her situation and she would need a solicitor. “That really shocked me.”

A solicitor was appointed by the Health Services Executive.   “The solicitor said he was familiar with my case but it would be better to explain it myself. . . I didn’t eat again those days . . . On Monday evening a psychiatrist came again and said if I eat and drink they will try to do the operation on Tuesday.  I would have preferred an abortion.”

Was she told she had a choice between an abortion and a Caesarean?  “No. I was told the only route that remained was a Caesarean.”  She met the obstetrician she understood would perform the section on Tuesday, and this doctor told her about the operation.  “She said to me, there is a law. This law says abortion is prohibited but people like me can be helped. Abortion is allowed if the pregnant person wants to kill herself because of the pregnancy. “

“She promised they would do it [the Caesarean] on Wednesday. She showed me a document with three signatures, two psychiatrists and one gynaecologist.  She started talking about the negative effects [of a Caesarean section]. I didn’t listen. I didn’t have a choice. All the suffering I had gone through. Then on Wednesday at about 3pm they did it.

“When I woke up I felt sick. The following Wednesday I was let out.”  “I didn’t want to even know that I had a child. Still, even today, I feel really bad.”  She has seen a psychiatrist twice since she left hospital, provided for her by the HSE.

Asked if she has any friend to talk to about her situation, the young woman says she has not.  “No, I didn’t want people to know . . . For me this was shameful. In our culture if a girl gives birth to a child before marriage everything is finished. No one can respect you. As well as that, for me, with the rape, it was difficult.”

“Sometimes, when I feel the pain . . . I feel I have been left by everybody . . . I just wanted justice to be done. For me this is injustice.”

A spokeswoman for the HSE, when asked about the allegation that the woman was not offered a right to appeal the decision to carry out a Caesarean section, said that the woman’s request for a termination on the basis of suicidality was acceded to.  “It is important to note that a pregnancy can be terminated by way of delivery through Caesarean section, as it was in this instance.”  As they were acceding to her request for a termination of the pregnancy on those grounds, there is no requirement for a review.

It’s hard to know in what proportion this response of the HSE is composed of cynicism, mendacity and deceit; or how much to that infamous principle of conduct by the Irish State of ‘an Irish solution to an Irish problem.”  As the columnist Fintan O’Toole pointed out:

“At least 160,000 Irish women have had abortions abroad since 1980. That’s close to one in 10 of the female population aged between 14 and 64. These women are our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, neighbours. Yet abortion is part of official discourse only when a new atrocity breaks the surface of a deep silence.”

An inquiry will be undertaken by the HSE which will, it is reported, establishe “all of the facts surrounding the care given to the woman” and will “end any inaccurate commentary surrounding this matter currently”, except that it “would not involve any review of the decision taken by the three clinicians who were empanelled to decide if an abortion was warranted under the 2013 Act .”

Meanwhile the Government through the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has said that the constitutional ban on abortion should be revisited by a future government, but that the legislation introduced by the Coalition was “the best possible” under the circumstances.  A phrase that hardly comes anywhere near describing truthfully the circumstances of the case.

The announcement of an inquiry will attempt the same role as the inquiry called after the death of Savita Halappanavar.  Already we have been told that it may not be published in full and of course it is to be conducted by the same organisation, the HSE, which is squarely in the dock as the guilty party.

The Government has already ruled out doing anything so the exercise is entirely cynical and entirely in keeping with the history of a state that took 21 years to legislate for the X case.  It’s remarkable that at this time the Irish state could move at such speed in an attempt to prevent another young 14 year old rape victim threatening suicide from having an abortion in Britain yet took 21 years to legislate for the limited concession to women that resulted from the case.

The state has no role in limiting the participation of anyone in society or determining their role.  It certainly cannot be allowed to control the rights of women to control their own fertility or to endanger their health or their life because of doctrines dreamed up by a medieval institution that believes its leader is God’s deputy on earth.

Women must have the right to choose whether they will bear children without conditions being imposed.  The Constitutional impediments to this must be repealed and the fight to make their free choice a real one, which cannot be settled by any constitutional provision, must be taken up.

A way forward cannot be left to the existing State but requires a movement that not only campaigns for the freedoms and resources to make women’s self-determination a reality but starts itself to put in place the services that women need.

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