Reporting on the case has been patchy and at times confused, but details have emerged that a woman who became pregnant through rape was refused an abortion in Ireland. Suicidal and desperate, she went on hunger strike and refused fluids. She was forcibly hydrated and at approximately 24 weeks a C section was performed upon her, authorised by the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act. It has been reported that the woman believes the state denied her access to abortion for months so that the foetus would be viable. She had been deemed suicidal by a panel of three doctors.
This isn’t a work of fiction or a story cataloguing abuses that happened in our distant past; this happened to a woman in Ireland in 2014.
When referring to the ban on abortion for a person who has been raped, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) chair, Nigel Rodley said Irish law treated women “as a vessel and nothing more”. This breaking story, detailing the torture inflicted by the Irish state on a pregnant suicidal woman shows, shamefully – that he was correct.
How did we get here?
An Irish woman won the right to contraception in our courts and the ruling was made under the right to privacy(McGee v. AG.). The right to privacy was used to grant the right to an abortion in the USA in the Roe v Wade judgement. Once the right to contraception was given under that ruling, various lobby groups feared that some day the right to an abortion would be granted in our courts under the same right.
So they lobbied and campaigned to amend our constitution, article 40.3.3 known as the 8th Amendment was the result of their campaigning, and the beginning of the type of fraught public discourse about abortion which has dominated the discussion in our country. The referendum was held in 1983 and no one who is currently under the age of 49 got to vote on this amendment which makes vessels of pregnant women.
While article 40.3.3 is in place it casts a long dark shadow over all our health care systems not just maternity, and in that darkness women are abused and denied our rights. Our rights to health, the right to bodily autonomy, the right to consent to medical treatments or even surgical procedures can be removed from us.
How much more abuse, pain, blood and suffering will be caused with the 8th amendment as justification? How much more tragedy? How many more women will join the list of names with Michelle Harte, Savita Halapanavar, Bimbo Owanga, the ladies of the A,B,C cases, Miss D and
that other rape victim Miss X, from whose supreme court ruling, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (originally the Protection of Maternal Life) was derived.
Would 14 year old Miss X have been refused an abortion, detained in hospital, and coerced into a Ceserean Section? She had least had, via her parents, the means to travel and the legal documents to do so. The most recent victim of the barbaric 8th amendment was not so “fortunate”; she was not able to avail of the only real “solace” and “access” the Irish State provides, an expensive, time-consuming trip. The PLDPA is, unfortunately, doing exactly what it set out to do: grant and deny access to abortion based on who an unpublicised group of doctors think really need it. Women have no ability to choose; yet again, we have to run to the State only when the stakes are most dire and demand to be seen, to be heard.
But with a government unwilling to listen to the stories of women who have sought abortion and travelled for abortion while they sit in halls of power and deliberate about how to “balance” the needs of women and the fringe minority who still think their religious ideas should supercede a woman’s agency, it is hard to get a look in until it’s already too late. It’s happened again that it’s all over save the hand-wringing and blame-shifting as to how the Government is likely to deal with this single case. But there are literally thousands of cases like this that could be prevented.
As long as our laws are subjugated by the 8th Amendment, so will women in Ireland be.