Repeal the Eighth!

It is one of the ironies that afflicts the Irish State when it comes to its treatment of women that the last couple of weeks has seen its health services in the dock for its disregard for their health at the same time as the climax to the referendum on whether to repeal the amendment to the constitution that criminalises abortion.

The Health Services Executive (HSE) decided that it would not inform women that the cervical smear test that showed a negative result was wrong, and that they did in fact have cancer.  At least 162 were not informed about their findings.  Of those who could have had earlier intervention if the tests had not been false 18 have died.

Politicians are now declaring their shock, and sympathy with the women and their families, while they sit on top of a state with a long, long history of such secrecy and disregard for women’s rights.  In fact, many are now defending this denial of rights through their support to retain the eighth amendment, which has led to women dying because of its elevation of the foetus over the woman who carries it.

The issue in both is about control.  Do women have control over their own bodies?

In the case of the cervical smear scandal, it was the state and its medical professionals who decided that women would not know about the potential threat to their life.  In the case of women who seek to control their own bodies through control of their womb, it is the state and its medical professionals who are held up as arbiters of the extent of this control, with some seeking to limit it altogether.

If tragedies alone led to change then fundamental change would have happened a long time ago, but it has taken the struggle of women and the revelation of the scandalous behaviour of the Catholic Church to bring about change.

The failures of the outsourced cervical screening service and the HSE were exposed not through any change of heart by the state, but by the bravery of one woman suffering from terminal cancer, who took a court case against the US testing company.  In the case of the fight for abortion rights, it was not the X case or the death of Savita Halappanaver or any of the others that has made repeal of the eighth a possibility.  These would have shocked and appalled and led to nothing but the next tragedy, were it not for the movement to demand the rights of women, led by women themselves.

A vital factor nevertheless has undoubtedly been the crushing of the reputation of the Catholic Church, whose moral authority has been fatally undermined for many because of the child abuse carried out by its priests and ‘holy’ orders; its actions to protect the abusers by moving them around the country so they could abuse again, and their failure to pay the minimal compensation to their victims that they campaigned shamelessly to reduce or avoid.

Yet still, despite this litany of infamy, they control the vast majority of primary schools and have massive influence over health service provision.  They continue to do so because of a continuing alliance with the state.

On 25th there is a chance to continue the campaign to reverse this, and repeal the eighth amendment.  Opinion polls show a reduced but still substantial lead in favour of repeal, with support for repeal highest among the young and urban population, especially in Dublin.  Views on both sides appears to have strengthened, hardly surprising given the age-old tactics of the reactionary ‘pro-life’ campaign.

If repealed the Government has promised to legislate for limited abortion rights up to 12 weeks and the anti-abortion rights campaigners have claimed this will open up Ireland to UK-type abortion provision, including abortion of the disabled.  Nothing they can do however will prevent UK abortions, including those of the thousands who travel from Ireland to have the procedure carried out.  Not that it hasn’t been tried, but imprisoning 14 year old rape victims who become pregnant was not a popular policy.

The growth in support for women’s rights among the young and urban population testifies to a transition and transformation in views, also reflected in opinion polls.  While 54% of respondents in the latest agreed with the statement that they have reservations about provision of abortion but feel the 12 weeks in  proposed legislation is “reasonable compromise’; 62% also agreed that “the law in Ireland needs to recognise a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.”

This movement for, and of, women to take control is reflected not just in the possibility of repeal but in the potential for a continuing movement to advance women’s rights and in the courage of some to express their support for abortion rights and opposition to the insults of its reactionary opponents.

Working class women will not gain control over their lives without a veritable social revolution that they can only achieve in unity with working class men, but such unity is impossible if women are unable to control their own bodies and own lives in the most basic of ways.  For a socialist, these are aspects of a single struggle against oppression and for a new fee society in which everyone can flourish.

The Belfast rape case and women’s rights

The nine-week rape trial in Belfast gripped not only the interest of many people in the North of Ireland but many in the South as well. I normally don’t take much, if any, interest in these cases as I regard them as normally fixating on individual questions of evil or wrong doing and diverting from social problems that often lie behind individual misfortune.  They often seem to be exercises in schadenfreude and prurience for many people.

I followed this case because it quickly became apparent that it involved not only trauma for the young woman at the centre of it, and a question of the guilt or otherwise of the four accused, but because it didn’t so much divert attention to an individual assault considered in isolation, as draw into focus sexual violence against women in general, and by extension wider questions of the position of women in society.

The verdict of not guilty found on behalf of the four accused – two charged of rape, one of indecent exposure and one of perverting the course of justice – prompted demonstrations outside the court in Belfast and in Dublin city centre, as well as a couple of other Irish towns.

This was a result of a number of factors, including the ‘celebrity’ status of the accused, with those charged with rape being prominent rugby players who had turned out for Ulster and Ireland, and the way the case was conducted.

For example: the trial involved the young woman being questioned over 8 days while each of the accused sat for no more than one day in the box. The latter was due of course to the decision of the prosecuting lawyers, who must have decided that while the testimony of one woman had required eight appearances, that of each of the accused warranted no more than one.  No wonder it is claimed that it is often the woman who appears to be on trial.

Two other points stood out.  The defence barrister’s summing up included the statement “why didn’t she scream the house down? A lot of very middle-class girls were downstairs. They were not going to tolerate rape or anything like that.”  Unlike presumably working class women?  That anyone thought this was a good argument to put to a jury says something for some attitudes in the legal profession.

This alone makes the statement of the Green Party politician Claire Bailey, that the case was not about class but only about gender, mistaken.  As the young woman texted in the morning after – “What happened was not consensual. I’m not going to the police. I’m not going up against Ulster Rugby. Yea because that’ll work.”

If one sport in Northern Ireland can be regarded as steeped in class it’s rugby, with its roots in ‘middle class’ grammar schools and traditionally played by Protestants.

It’s not something I have any affinity with, even though I had to play it at school. My father had no interest in it at all and used to tell me it was a game for the toffs; I should support Wales because it at least had working class players.  And while the development of the professional game has eroded such factors, I get the impression that this isn’t quite so much the case in the North of Ireland. Having been to one Ulster rugby match I could tell it was nothing like watching football.

The other crucial point was exposure of the numerous Whatsapp messages between the accused after the party at which the rape was alleged to have taken place, which were crudely misogynistic.  It is these displays of vulgar insults against women which have been taken up by subsequent protests and that has fuelled the continuing controversy, precisely because there is no denying their provenance.

On top of these was the less than contrite tone, in fact many might say quite aggressive tone, of the statement following the trial by the defence solicitor for the most prominent of the accused.  The latter hardly smoothed the waters by threatening to sue those who questioned the verdict on social media afterwards.  His more contrite tone in a statement issued nine days later was dismissed by many as way too late, with the suspicion voiced that it had more to do with countering the growing call for an end to his current rugby career than being a genuine act of regret.

Calls, including a petition and newspaper advert, for the players not to be selected again for Ulster and Ireland were countered by opposite calls by other Ulster rugby supporters, who said they would refuse to buy season tickets if the players were not selected again.

Call me paranoid if you want, but when I read statements that seem to see only the man as the victim, that claim to be from the “silent majority’ (who are of course never silent when they make this claim, irrespective of whether they are actually a majority or not); and use other common reactionary tropes such as being “real fans” of Ulster, presumably in contrast to the unreal(?) ones who called for them not to be selected again; well I think I’m entitled to argue that this ‘silent majority’ are also reactionaries who are oblivious to the misogynistic rants of their heroes and the gravity of the effect of their behaviour, whether criminal or not.

I’m afraid however that I must also say that I don’t give a shit whether they represent Ireland and Ulster again or not, and not just because I don’t give a shit about rugby itself.  The Green politician Claire Bailey again said that “this is my Ulster team as well’ – she must be a fan of rugby; while for me the very idea that a sports team could represent a whole country or province is such a lot of fictional nonsense that only buying into the notion of a united ‘national interest’ or un-conflicted ‘national identity’ could make any of this in any way rational. But then nationalism is essentially reactionary anyway, and all the more powerful for being uncritically assumed in many different circumstances, including this one.

I’ve never felt that something being Irish meant I had to have some positive feelings about it, from the Irish State to Irish beef from Irish cows – what the hell is an Irish cow?  These people never ‘represented’ me at any time, no matter what might be understood by such an idea.

However, if there is one thing more powerful than nationalism it is the power of money, and it may well have been that the power of money coming from sponsors has weighed more heavily than anything in the club’s decision that the players will no longer play for them.

For those campaigning for such a decision, this will be seen as a victory against a misogynist culture within the sport, including a victory for women rugby players, with wider ramifications for the position of women in society.  Unfortunately, it is by no means obvious that the demands of the Belfast Feminist Network raised during protests are altogether progressive.

There can’t be any objection to improved education against misogyny, and in this case on the question of consent, but the oppression suffered by women is grounded in much more fundamental aspects of society than the culture of the media, justice system and education.  All aspects of the same state from which they expect a solution.

As I’ve noted, far from class being irrelevant, the explicit references to it and the role of money in determining one outcome of the case demonstrates that the position of many women in society, and women as a whole, is based on inequalities of power that are rooted in the class structure of society.  It will simply not be possible for women to achieve full equality if class inequality remains.

This is neither a claim that women’s demands must be dropped while class demands are pursued, or that progress on removing class oppression will of itself remove oppression suffered by women.  It is a claim that women’s equality cannot be simply gender equality within a class-ridden capitalist system.  This meets neither the interests of working class women or of men.

The goal of a socialist society is the free development of the individual from social oppression, not from the individual antagonisms that eventuate from imperfect human beings who will never live in a perfect society, even if that term meant anything.  This is not an excuse for continued sexism but a claim that ending social oppression can only arise out of the struggle to which socialism is devoted, and that this must include the ending of systematic oppression of women, plus repression of gay people and an end to all forms of racism.

Most immediately in Ireland the outcome of the Belfast rape trial shows the importance of repealing the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution which criminalises abortion.

There is widespread commentary that, while there is sympathy among some that women should be allowed to have an abortion in cases of rape, the eighth amendment should not be repealed because legislation will be introduced that facilitates abortion up to 12 weeks in cases where there hasn’t been rape.

What this case shows is that even on this rather narrow ground this is indefensible.  We already know that most sexual assaults aren’t reported and this case has shown what sometimes happens even when they are.  What it highlights, is the need for women to be able to control their own bodies. The fight against rape is one such fight and so is the struggle for abortion rights.

Rape, Republicanism and Revenge

2014-10-28_new_4232679_I1A Belfast woman, Maíría Cahill, whose great-uncle Joe Cahill helped form the Provisional IRA in 1969, has claimed in a BBC programme that she was attacked and sexually abused by a much older IRA man from the age of 16 for a period of 12 months in 1997.

She has accused the Republican Movement of trying to force her to keep quiet about the rape and holding a “kangaroo court” in which she was interrogated about her claims.  “The only word I have for it is interrogation, because that’s exactly how it felt.” The IRA investigation lasted six months and included a face-to-face meeting with Cahill’s alleged abuser.  “They told me that they were going to read my body language to see who was telling the truth and that they were going to bring him into a room.”

She says that she was discouraged from going to the police, in line with Sinn Fein policy at the time.  When she did go to the police the prosecution authorities ensured that it was IRA membership charges that were first taken against the alleged rapist and those involved in the IRA investigation.

When these charges collapsed the prospect of conviction for rape also reduced so she withdrew support from the remaining trials.  She signed a withdrawal statement but maintained her claims of sexual abuse and her claims against the four people accused of subjecting her to an IRA interrogation. She also accused both the police and the Public Prosecution Service of failing her.

What we have then is the story of a rape victim who received no justice from the movement she supported and none from the state, which appeared, as usual, more interested in a political agenda than the concerns of a victim.

The case has become news just as an inquiry is to take place into child abuse at Kincora children’s home in east Belfast in the early 1970s.  It is widely suspected that the British security services colluded in a cover up of the horrific abuse that took place in the home in order to gather intelligence in pursuit of their dirty war.

The hands of the state when it comes to the North of Ireland are literally dripping with blood.

Not unexpectedly however most attention has been directed to Gerry Adams, who Cahill says she met to discuss her rape.  At this meeting she claims he suggested to her that abusers were so manipulative that they can make the abused actually enjoy their abuse.

Adams has rejected this and claims that he asked another female republican to tell Cahill to report her experience to the police.  Cahill in turn has argued that the idea that a senior republican would ask her to go to the police to give information against not only the IRA accused but also the IRA investigators as “absolutely ridiculous”.

The accusations against Gerry Adams come shortly after the conviction of his brother for abuse of his daughter, Gerry Adams’ niece.  Gerry Adams was again accused of doing little or nothing, failing to report the allegations to the police and of concocting a frankly incredible story regarding his own knowledge and actions.

Maíría Cahill continued to work for Sinn Fein even after her abuse and was briefly a member of the Republican Network for Unity, a political organisation very critical of Sinn Fein’s support for the police. She subsequently moved to support a campaign against former republican prisoners working in the new Stormont administration and she now declares her full support for the authorities and the police. She has also sought and received the public support of the leaders of Unionism and of the Southern capitalist parties.  As a result Sinn Fein has accused the latter of seeking political gain from her tragic experience.

Gerry Adams has subsequently given a very general apology on behalf of the IRA for its failures in the area of abuse, acknowledging that it had, on occasion, shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them.  The latter has raised a storm of protest from Southern politicians that the republican movement has in effect repeated the crimes of the Catholic Church by moving abusers about the country, free to abuse again.

The publicity surrounding the Maíría Cahill case has also brought out numerous allegations of IRA protection or leniency towards abuse by their own members in comparison to brutal treatment of others.

For Adams the disbandment of the IRA means there is no “corporate knowledge” to draw on in the Cahill case while he admits that the IRA was “singularly ill equipped” to deal with sexual abuse, although it presented itself as the alternative state for long enough.

So what are we to make of this?  One take on it is that what we are seeing is the politics of vengeance that does society no good.  The political ‘zig-zags’ of Maíría Cahill may obscure the political significance of her case but its significance is salient not only because of her own demands but also because of the other cases which the publicity she has generated has brought into the open.  In other words we are not simply dealing here with one person’s tragic experience that has no wider social significance.  This wider significance goes beyond the political impact of her case on the fortunes of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein.

With regard to the latter we can lament her reliance on the state and any illusions on the justice to be received from it but in this respect the political significance of Maíría Cahill’s pursuit of justice through lobbying establishment politicians and the state, and her criticism of the handling of her case by Sinn Fein, is immeasurably less than the republicans own capitulation to the state and their embrace of it as the providers of justice.  Their treatment of Cahill is also of greater political significance given that they are a major political party seeking office, and the fact that this treatment appears to have been meted out to others.

Even in terms of her own particular situation, she was and is obviously caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.  She initially sought justice from the movement she supported and was betrayed.  The most charitable interpretation is that they let her down but having let her down they stand condemned for having abused and betrayed her.

And now she wants vengeance? As Leon Trotsky said “the feeling of revenge has its rights.”  It is not the case that she has no demands other than this.  She wants others put in the same position by the Republican Movement to come forward. She wants republicans to admit the truth of her claims and she wants help for her and other similar victims. These goals appear to me to be entirely supportable even if her road to achieving them is not. But, as I have noted, she initially chose a different road.  It is not difficult to understand how, given her circumstances, she chose the course she is now on.

The Socialist Democracy article noted above correctly argues that justice “can only be asserted by the self-organisation of the working class and oppressed” and that “to win justice we have to rebuild the self-organisation of the workers, not give backhanded support to the state and the mechanisms of class oppression.”  But this is hardly a task that one woman could be expected to take on board herself and if she did not see it as an option this reflects the current near invisibility of it as a practical option for her.

Which brings me to the political lessons that socialists must learn from this and similar episodes. The article states that “the IRA was a revolutionary nationalist army . . . the idea that it could effectively investigate rapes is ridiculous.” Yes indeed, just like the idea that it could defeat British rule.  Except it claimed it could do both and organised an armed campaign that assumed responsibility for both, a responsibility it has not properly accounted for. Instead the Republican Movement has rewritten the past (it fought for ‘equality’ not for ‘Brits Out’) and has relied on the British state to place it into its new arrangements for imperialist rule.

But let’s pause for a second to ask ourselves how an army, even an ‘army of the people’ could possibly represent an alternative state?  What sort of state would it be that is defined by, conditioned by and ruled by an army?  It’s not that the Republican Movement couldn’t help itself when it came to dealing with questions routinely addressed by the capitalist state, including rape allegations, but that Irish Republicanism has always elevated armed actions above political struggle, the liberation of the oppressed by the oppressed themselves.  When it has stopped doing so it has stopped being in any real sense republican.  It reminds one of the saying that you can do everything with a bayonet except sit on it.  Guns are no answer to fundamental social and political questions.  The singular in Adams’ “singularly ill equipped” can only truthfully refer to republican militarism that it embraced until it was defeated.

For Marxists it should be a salutary lesson that political programmes defined by what they are against; defined by ‘smashing the capitalist state’ are only progressive to the degree that the working class has built itself a democratic and viable alternative.  Too often this is not at all the case and justification for particular political positions is often reposed on the argument that it will split, weaken or smash the state while doing nothing to advance the organisation or political consciousness of the working class as the alternative.

Whatever political weaknesses that Maíría Cahill may have, they pale beside those of her abusers who must ultimately be held responsible for the trauma of which her political odyssey appears as an expression.

Thousands demonstrate for abortion rights in Ireland

DSC_0185In August it was revealed that a young rape victim had been denied the abortion she requested while apparently being led to believe that this was possible.  It came after the horrific death two years ago of Savita Halappanaver who died when she was refused an abortion.

Yesterday thousands demonstrated in Dublin to demand for abortion rights and repeal of 8th amendment to the Irish State’s constitution which enshrines this denial of women’s rights.

The march was organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign and was mainly composed of young people, overwhelmingly young women, who represent a new generation that is not prepared to quietly accept the denial of the most fundamental of rights to control their own bodies.  They are aware that increasingly they speak for the majority of people in the State and that the barrier to the vindication of their rights is the State itself, behind which stands the reactionary forces long associated with the Catholic Church.

The leaflet given out at the demonstration by its organisers pointed out that the Irish state has the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.  That if a woman seeks a termination it can only be on the grounds that there is an imminent and substantial risk to the woman’s life, including suicide.  Rape is not legal grounds for an abortion, nor is the fact that a foetus will not survive outside the womb and the restrictive grounds that do exist require an assessment by up to 6 doctors.

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Many of the demonstrators pulled wheelie luggage with tags for LHR and LPL, recording the fact that 159,000 women have travelled to Britain for an abortion since 1980. The latest legislation by the State is not a solution to this infamous ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’ – the temporary export of women to Britain.

The demonstration signposted the need for a new campaign to repeal the 8th amendment on the 30th anniversary of its passing, with speakers noting that most of those attending would have had no opportunity to participate in this decision.

The repeated exposure of the criminal abuse by the Catholic Church has robbed this body of much influence but it continues to retain its power though its alliance with the state and many demonstrators demanded their separation.

The campaign and others have correctly decided that the demand for repeal of this part of the State’s constitution is not a policy of reliance and dependency on the state but an effort to remove shackles on their rights and that direct, first-hand action has and will continue to be taken to provide women with real choice during unwanted pregnancies.

 

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.

New Abortion Bill – should it be supported?

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The death last October of a young woman, Savita Halappanavar, refused an abortion in a Galway hospital that may well have saved her life because, she was told by staff, “this is a Catholic country”, was shocking and led to an eruption of anger across the State.  It made headlines across the world.  It forced the establishment parties to get off the fence they had been sitting on for over two decades and promise they would legislate for some sort of abortion rights.

The problem they said was one of legal clarity and certainty for the medical profession.  At the time I argued that this was not the issue.  The issue was the all too certain denial of women’s rights to control their own bodies and their own fertility to the degree that they could be left to die rather than be allowed to abort a foetus that could not survive.

Now the nature of the proposed legislation has been made public.  It is clear from this that it is designed to protect the state and not women.

Enda Kenny spelled it out – the legislation “will not create any new rights.”  Although arising from the Halappanavar case it will not prevent such a tragedy happening again.  That’s about as damning a judgement as could be made given the circumstances.

The legislation will do nothing to facilitate abortion rights in cases of rape, incest or cases of foetal abnormality.  The health of women is of no consideration.  Abortion remains a crime and the 1861 British penalty of penal servitude for life has been replaced by the 21st century Irish penalty of 14 years imprisonment.  Women may go to jail because it would be ‘inequitable to penalise the doctor but not the woman undergoing the procedure’.  This will apply to pregnant women.  The denial of rights is indivisible.  Thousands of Irish women will be regarded as criminals who have escaped punishment only because their crime was perpetrated elsewhere.  These women will continue to travel to Britain rather than face the bureaucratic obstacle course which seems designed to ensure their journeys continue.

These rules require two doctors to approve an abortion where there is a “real and substantial risk to the woman’s life” and one if the termination is considered “immediately necessary.”   In the case of a woman at risk from suicide three doctors are required to approve (unanimously), two psychiatrists and a gynaecologist or obstetrician.  If the woman is refused a termination she has the right to appeal in writing to two doctors if it involves physical risk and another three doctors if she is in danger of suicide.  Again these are to be two psychiatrists and a gynaecologist or obstetrician.

The expertise of the medical profession is to be deployed in order to adjudicate on behalf of the State on women’s rights.  That this expertise is not the real function but rather a justification of the fetters determined by the State is abundantly clear from the fact that a gynaecologist or obstetrician must be on both the original and review panel and the verdict must be unanimous.  What expertise does a gynaecologist or obstetrician have in determining a woman’s state of mind?  In what way is a medical emergency requiring only one doctor in any essential way different from one determined by the threat of suicide?

The legislation has been enacted to deal with the State’s non-compliance with the European Court of Human Rights, which had concluded unanimously that it had breached a woman’s right under Article 8 “by reason of the absence of any implementing legislative or regulatory regime providing an accessible and effective procedure by which she could have established whether she qualified for a lawful abortion in Ireland.”  Now most women will know that they don’t and will face a struggle to affirm their rights if they think they do.

The State hopes that it will have neutralised the movement that wanted to affirm women’s rights and thereby bolster all the reactionary sections of society that seek to maintain the system of repression on which the Irish State was founded.

It would therefore be a mistake to welcome this legislation, this enactment that “will not create any new rights.”  We should not get into a fight over whether only two doctors are required in cases of possible suicide rather than three.  As has been pointed out by Doctors for Choice Ireland here , women will in all probability visit their GP first before going through the bureaucratic process meaning they could see two, three or four doctors initially.

Doctors for Choice Ireland put what we need to demand very succinctly “We believe that the safest way to protect all women in Irish society is to decriminalise abortion, leaving medical matters outside the criminal law. . . Women should have the choice to access safe abortion services with fully informed consent. To achieve this we will need to repeal the 8th amendment.”

The reality of the Good State

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Some readers of this blog might think that I’m labouring the question of nationalisation and state ownership and its identification with socialism. While I believe it is a question of fundamental political importance its practical significance has been vividly illustrated in the last few days.

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In Britain the report from the fifth investigation into Stafford hospital has been delivered, prompting David Cameron to say that he was”truly sorry” for what had happened, which was “not just wrong, it was truly dreadful.” Previous investigations had already established in harrowing detail the abuse and neglect that took place from 2005 to 2008.

Between 400 and 1,200 more deaths took place than would have been expected between these years, although it is stated that it is impossible to say whether all of these patients would have survived had they received better treatment. Receptionists were left to decide which patients to treat, inexperienced doctors were put in charge of critically ill patients and nurses were not trained how to use vital equipment.

The National Health Service, so beloved of the British nation that it featured in the opening ceremony of the Olympics, has been damned from top to bottom.

Trust management ignored patients’ complaints while local GPs and MPs also failed to speak up, the inquiry said.

The local primary care trust and regional health authority were too quick to trust the hospital’s management and national regulators were not challenging enough.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing was highlighted for not doing enough to support its members who were trying to raise concerns.

The Department of Health was also criticised for being too “remote” and embarking on “counterproductive” reorganisations.

The findings of the report cannot be regarded as an aberration as it follows repeated damning judgments of care provided in Britain, especially care of the elderly, and news that five other hospitals are to be investigated following Stafford.

Yet the NHS is the crown jewels of the social democratic state.

The inquiry’s head said that patients “were failed by a system which ignored the warning signs and put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.”

Many on the left speak and act as if the only problem with the health service is a lack of cash but this is much less than the full story and money will not deal with what has been referred to as the cultural changes that are required.

Working class people in Britain and Ireland are all too aware of the shortcomings of the health services. While those in Ireland may wish for their own NHS those in the UK know its limitations and going to hospital is more and more regarded as something you really don’t want to do unless you have to.

Those with elderly relatives in care are all too aware of the possibility of mistreatment.

Only yesterday Channel 4 news reported on the death of an elderly person left with no domiciliary care for 9 days when the service she was receiving was closed by immigration police, who had raided the office of the private organisation providing the care. When the care provided by this organisation stopped the council never picked up on the elderly woman who had no relatives. She went without her medication and died hungry, thirsty and alone.

Two days ago the illegal charging by the Irish State of people in long-term care again became news. As early as 1976 the State, through the Department of Health, knew its charges were illegal. In 2005 the Government attempted to make them legal retrospectively although this was stopped by the Supreme Court.

The Government knew exactly what it was doing. The Minister of Health Mary Harney said that “more than 300,000 people were charged illegally during 28 years. This was entirely wrong. They were old, they were poor, they suffered from mental illness, they had intellectual disabilities, they were physically disabled. As vulnerable people, they were especially entitled to the protection of the law and to legal clarity about their situation.”

And yesterday the report on the Magdalene Laundries was released, which revealed some of the State’s role in the incarceration of thousands of women in institutions run by Catholic religious orders, compelled to work for nothing and stigmatised as ‘fallen women.’ “A very Irish form of slavery” as the Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald put it. Over one quarter of the women were put there by the State. The last laundry only closed in 1996.

The State again attempted to cover up and lie over its role.

In 2009 the Minister of Education Batt O’Keefe said that “the Magdalene laundries were privately owned and operated establishments which did not come within the responsibility of the State. The State did not refer individuals to the Magdalene laundries nor was it complicit in referring individuals to them.” Not true.

In 2011 Sean Aylward, secretary general of the Department of Justice, speaking in Geneva at the UN Committee Against Torture said “the vast majority of women who went to these institutions went there voluntarily or, if they were minors, with the consent of their parents or guardians.” He knew this because he had met some of these women.

Yet not one of the five women he had met had entered the laundries voluntarily or with the consent of their parents or guardians. Over eighty three per cent who entered the laundries were put there.

What all these examples demonstrate is that the capitalist state cannot be relied upon to provide services that working people, especially the most vulnerable, require. Some, like the Magdalene laundries, are now easy to denounce but none are models of socialism. Far from uncritically defending these services socialists must educate and agitate for a workers’ alternative to how they are currently organised and managed. The very last thing we want to do is proclaim these services as exemplars of socialism and the state that runs them as the font of this socialism.