Below is a video which I urge you to watch. It is short, only 5 minutes long. It tells the story of a Peruvian girl who is 13 years old. This girl was raped. She fell pregnant and became suicidal. She jumped off a building but only succeeded in severely injuring her spine. When she was taken to hospital the doctors refused to operate because she was pregnant. They decided to wait until she gave birth before they would give her the medical attention she needed. Of course this had disastrous consequences, so please watch the short video.
The reason I am linking this video in a discussion about the abortion debate in Ireland is because this situation could, and has, happened here. That 13 year old girl would have received the exact same treatment in Ireland given our current laws. There is no provision for abortion if there is a risk to the woman’s health, only if her life is in “significant” danger. I’m sure you are all aware of the story about Savita Halappanavar, the young Indian women who died in a hospital in Galway, Ireland. She died in excruciating pain while the doctors refused to give her an abortion. The life of a fetus, which was dying, trumped that of a living woman. This, in the town I have lived in all my life, across the road from the university I attend every day. To say this angered me is an understatement. The one encouragement was the reaction of the Irish people. I was proud to see how they filled the streets in every major Irish city to show their disgust and outrage. Yet I was pessimistic because I knew my government would only take piecemeal action, if any. And that is exactly what is happening.
The government has established a Health Committee to review the Irish abortion law. The committee is holding 3 days of hearings where it will hear from medical and legal professionals and several advocacy groups. But on January 10th, it will hear from several religious organisations:
Irish Catholic Bishops Conference,
Church of Ireland,
Presbyterian Church of Ireland,
Methodist Church of Ireland,
Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland.
So five men will offer the opinion of their respective deities on what limits women should have when it comes to their health options. There is not one secular group: atheists and non-religious, and even religious secularists, are completely discounted from the conversation. In an ideal world there should be no need for any groups to be invited to such a discussion based on religiosity or lack thereof, but if the government is going to give a voice to religious groups then it must give a voice to the non-religious. Especially since it is the religious voices that want to maintain the status-quo, they want to perpetuate the current situation where a fetus is more important than the health and life of a woman.
The Savita case is not the only one. In 2010 Michelle Harte, who was suffering from cancer, was forced to travel to Britain to have an abortion as she could not obtain one in Ireland. You do not need to be a medical professional to know that carrying a pregnancy while battling cancer greatly reduces your health and chances of survival. But as her health was not in “significant” or “immediate” risk, the abortion was denied.
There are also the victims whom we don’t hear about. The dozens of women who travel to Liverpool every year to have medical terminations. That is when the fetus is deemed “not viable for life”, i.e. the baby will die before or soon after birth. These woman face two options, being forced to carry the child knowing it is never going to live, explaining to your loved ones/co-workers/children that your baby is all but dead. However, you still carry it, and it still grows inside of you while you wait for a miscarriage that can arrive any day. This is surely borderline mental torture which no woman should be forced to go through. Remember, these woman wanted this child! The second option is to travel to a hospital in Liverpool to have a medical termination. Medical terminations are a traumatic experience and one should have the support of family and loved ones, but most must leave their family and support and are forced to travel alone to get the help they need. This only adds to the anguish of losing a child. It should also be pointed out that this costs €2.800, a sum of money not every family can afford. So many women who cannot access such funds have no choice but to continue carrying their child until it eventually dies in their womb.
So if you are Irish and you are unhappy with the current draconian abortion laws, and unhappy with the fact that religious organisations that support such laws are invited to offer their opinion on the debate while you are denied a voice, then please email your local TD; also below is the list of TDs on the Health Committee, please email them and voice your anger and disappointment. Remember the girl in the video, and the women in Ireland who have suffered because of these laws, the only way to prevent it from happening again is if we change our laws, and now is the time!
[Important Update] Thanks to the work of Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland, the Health Committee has invited Atheist Ireland to the hearing. Which now means there will be a secular voice heard. Congratulations to Michael. However, that does not guarantee the government will take the necessary measures, and the fact that they originally omitted any secular representation to begin with is quite worrying. So there still needs to be pressure put on the government officials to show them we want real change and not tokenist measures.
Jerry.Buttimer@oireachtas.ie, Catherine.Byrne@oireachtas.ie, Michael.Colreavy@oireachtas.ie, Ciara.Conway@oireachtas.ie, Regina.Doherty@oireachtas.ie, Robert.Dowds@oireachtas.ie, Peter.Fitzpatrick@oireachtas.ie, Seamus.Healy@oireachtas.ie, Billy.Kelleher@oireachtas.ie, Eamonn.Maloney@oireachtas.ie, Mary.MitchellOConnor@oireachtas.ie, Mattie.McGrath@oireachtas.ie, Denis.Naughten@oireachtas.ie, Caoimhghin.OCaolain@oireachtas.ie, Robert.Troy@oireachtas.ie, Colm.Burke@oireachtas.ie, John.Crown@oireachtas.ie, John.Gilroy@oireachtas.ie, Imelda.Henry@oireachtas.ie, Marc.MacSharry@oireachtas.ie, Jillian.VanTurnhout@oireachtas.ie