Weekly Roundup: call for non-Catholic care and support from medical students (and Mark Ruffalo)

Welcome to another Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad. This week the voices of the pro-choice side of the medical community made themselves heard, while another dinosaur doctor showed himself to be stuck in the past. We also gained a celebrity following and were reminded of where this campaign began.

Are you a doctor, or are you a Catholic?

Sligo GP Dr Mark Murphy, who is a member of Doctors for Choice, added his insight to the debate with a column on TheJournal.ie calling for secular – not Catholic – healthcare in Ireland. After all, if public health services are paid for the general population through taxation, shouldn’t they reflect the secular, multi-denominational values of our society?

Dr Murphy saw the need to separate Church and State through all stages of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and points out that half of our public hospitals are owned and governed by religious orders. Dr Murphy has worked at two such hospitals and recalls a cancer patient “being refused a clinical-trial drug, as she would have to commence hormonal contraception. That is not an ethos I wish to be associated with,” he adds.

Speaking of medical practitioners that let their own moral code interfere with medical practice, this week we also heard from University of Limerick student Úna Roddy, who was refused the pill by her GP. “The onslaught of judgement was so unexpected and severe that it literally took my breath away,” writes Roddy, describing an encounter that, according to a few ARC commenters, isn’t all that uncommon.

But there is support for abortion in the medical profession, and it’s not all coming from Doctors for Choice. When asked if abortion should be legally available in Ireland on request, 55% of medical students from Roddy’s own university said that it should. Of the outright ‘no’ responses, there were 7%, while 33% said it should be allowed in limited circumstances. Furthermore, almost all (95.2%) believed education on abortion needs to be introduced to medical school curricula.

Our celebrity following

This week we had a celebrity publicly join the ranks of abortion rights campaigners. Mark Ruffalo wrote this message in support of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride across the US, describing how his mother had to obtain an abortion illegally in “an America that was not free nor equal nor very kind.”

The shame brought upon his mother through this traumatic experience is something Ruffalo hopes his daughters – or any woman, for that matter – will never have to endure.

“There is nothing to be ashamed of here except to allow a radical and recessive group of people to bully and intimidate our mothers and sisters and daughters for exercising their right of choice. Or use terrorism and fanaticism to block their legal rights or take the lives of their caregivers.  Or design legislation that would chip away at those rights disguised as reinforcing a woman’s health,” he wrote.

In a piece for The Women’s Blog on the Guardian website, Kira Cochrane notes that this celebrity endorsement should not be met with cynicism, and, in fact, more like Ruffalo – and Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, Amy Poehler and Martha Plimpton – are needed to identify as pro-choice and remove the stigma surrounding this admission.

News of the world

Abortion rights are being fought for all over the world, not just in Ireland. In the Brong-Ahafo Region in Ghana, retired midwife Maame Donkoh reminded a Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana gathering that Africa has the highest rate of abortion-related deaths in any region, attributing this to restrictive abortion laws. She stressed the need to destigmatise abortion, provide information on safe services, increase the use of contraceptives and implement national standards and guidelines for abortion care.

Elsewhere in the world, anti-abortion legislators in Ohio hope that a previously failed bill restricting abortions once a foetal heartbeat is detected will be reintroduced. Foetal heartbeats can be picked up as early as six weeks into pregnancy, so this law could effectively prohibit abortion for women before they’ve even discovered that they are pregnant.

Meanwhile, we came across this abortion story from one of the States’ northern neighbours in Ontario, Canada. Unlike the many harrowing stories we’ve read from Irish women having to travel for abortions and being treated poorly in the process, Jane Person’s story is encouraging. “I was treated with dignity and respect throughout this whole process,” she writes. “I felt I was afforded autonomy and agency as a patient. There was no judgment placed upon me.”

Person, however, understands that not all women are afforded this level of dignity and respect. “I can’t help but empathize with the millions of women who aren’t quite as lucky as I am,” she concludes. “Women will never be equal until men stop legislating what they do with their own bodies. Women must be given the autonomy and respect to decide what is right for themselves and their bodies.”

Back to our roots

Also this week, The Irish Times asked its journalists to recall “the greatest story I ever told”. Kitty Holland’s choice was breaking the news of Savita Halappanavar’s death after being refused an abortion at Galway University Hospital.

The story resonates so strongly with Holland because she realises the wide impact it had, mobilising long-active groups into direct action and forcing the Government to take action on abortion rights in Ireland. We’re happy that Holland chose this story, as it’s important to look back and remember where this all began.

Do you want to make a stand for free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland? Join us for a gathering of activists, change-makers and rabble-rousers for good at the March for Choice on September 28th, coinciding with Global Day of Action for Safe and Legal Abortion, and let your voice be heard!