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miss d

Posted by pocochina on May 1, 2007

In the grand tradition of punishing women for being, well, women, Ireland and its draconian lack of reproductive rights is on the international stage again.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland, except in instances to save a woman’s life (much like the painful path down which the Supreme Court seems to be attempting to force the US).  Women rarely challenge the ban; when they do, they are punished.

The ban goes without challenge for several reasons. The most important, in practical terrms, is of course the proximity of Ireland to other countries with more liberal abortion laws, especially Britain.  British women can obtain abortions after two doctors sign off on the procedure – patriarchal, condescending, but in practice not prohibitive.  Women whose pregnancies, for whatever reason, are known to officials can be detained in the Irish Republic until it is too late for a termination.  Women – around 6000 in Britain in 2004 (Irish Family Planning Association, ifpa.ie) – travel abroad for abortions.  This number is probably low.  Some women don’t report their Irish addresses, for obvious reasons, others travel to France, Spain, or the Netherlands.  I’m not castigating these women or criticizing their decisions.  It’s what I’d do.  This solution is available to many women, but it’s a band-aid at best for the national problem.

Those women left without recourse are terribly vulerable – children, rape victims, often both.  The X case, heard in the early ’90s, not only set an onerous precedent for Irish women, but also illustrates the human tragedy of the abortion ban.  X was a 14 year old who became pregnant as a result of rape.  Her family brought her to Britain for a termination, and contacted the Gardai (Irish police) to ask if the products of termination could be used to prosecute her rapist.  And instead of the common sense law enforcement answer (“yes, please, DNA evidence to convict a sexual predator,”) X was ordered to return to Ireland, and stay for nine months.  X then claimed she would commit suicide rather than carry and bear her rapist’s child.  The court still denied her right to an abortion, or even to leave the country.  Her life meant less to the court than the life of the fetus.  Eventually, the High Court recinded their decision, not on the principle that it was her body, or even that her life was in danger, but on the grounds that the right to travel is inherent to a democracy.

There’s a lot to unpack in the X case and its fallout, and people smarter than I am have done so.  (Lisa Smyth, Abortion and Nation:  The Politics of Reproduction in Contemporary Ireland and Ailbhe Smyth, The Abortion Papers.)  The Court’s blatant disregard for life when it involves the already-born is a constant across countries with restricted or banned abortion.  The particular threat of suicide, horrific in and of itself, led to a referendum (eventually defeated) which would eliminate the “suicide loophole,” and in the Green Paper (the legislature’s book report on abortion), the writers attempted to disprove that a pregnant woman would even be honestly considering suicide.  In the anti-chioce mind, women are not only hormonal baby-machines, but are also shameless liars.  The fact that the end result rested on the right to travel also provides insight – only women can get pregnant, but men, too, travel abroad.  It also spells out the mindset of public opinion on abortion in Ireland (and until recently, Portugal).  We know it’s happening, but we want the comfort of pretending that it doesn’t.  The court was correct in their statement that citizens of a democracy must be able to travel, and yet it in effect forces women to travel.

The C case, so like the X case, also involved  a child victim of rape.  Since the perpetrator was a friend of her family, she was a ward of the state throughout her case.  Following the precedent of X, the Children’s Court of the Republic ruled that she could travel to Britain.  As a ward of the state, C could obtain an abortion, but another young woman in her situation is not guaranteed the same rights.  In another misogynistic twist, C’s father went public, and after being contacted by pro-life groups, attempted to regain custody of her in order to prevent the abortion – so much for her privacy.  DNA obtained in this case was used to convict the rapist – but the legal procedure may have scared numerous women and girls out of reporting sexual assault, or providing evidence which could identify/convict rapists.

And today’s D case involves another teenager (17).  She’s a ward of the state, taken away from her single mother, and her fetus has anencephaly – it will not develop a brain or be able to survive outside of her body.  At the outside, it’ll have a few days to live.  She has been barred from leaving the country for an abortion.

I want to take a second to point out the obvious – all of these women are teenagers, and they are victims.  There’s no discussion of the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds that women deserve bodily autonomy.  The penalties are heavy enough that women who don’t want to be pregnant simply steal out of the country without telling anyone, if it’s at all possible.  Should Roe be overturned, this is what I imagine interstate travel for abortions to look like in the US.

It’s early Tuesday morning in Ireland now.  The case will be heard today.  I hope the Court sees sense and follows precedent and lets her leave; barring that, I hope Women on Waves shows up, I hope the EU Human Rights court intervenes.  I don’t know if Ms D wants or trusts prayers, but she certainly has mine.

RTE news story here:  http://www.rte.ie/news/2007/0430/missd.html Story found via feministing.com

Edit:  It looks like D will be able to leave Ireland for her abortion – and if there’s a Miss E, she’ll have to go through the same thing.


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