A woman’s right to choose?
Guest post by Cassandra Fox.
Over 10,000 protesters marched through Dublin this weekend, compounding a long-standing call for change to Ireland’s strict abortion laws.
This follows the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar , a 31-year-old Hindu woman who died in agony from blood poisoning after she was told that her failing pregnancy could not be terminated ‘because Ireland is a Catholic country’.
The death is being investigated, and it remains unclear whether the hospital was acting illegally in refusing a procedure which may have saved the mother’s life – the one instance where medical termination of pregnancy is allowed under Irish law.
Despite government claims that Irish unwanted pregnancy numbers are falling, the charity Abortion Support Network says that thousands of women each year travel from Ireland and Northern Ireland to England for abortions, and in addition some women travel to other European countries with less rigorous safety standards or purchase pills via the internet.
Irish women are not alone in seeking desperate solutions to a desperate situation.
A World Health Organisation report released last week revealed that “in some countries unsafe abortions cause over 20 per cent of all registered maternal deaths, and Eastern Europe has the highest abortion rate in the world.”
In fiercely Catholic Poland abortion is allowed in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother or baby’s health is at serious risk. Nonetheless, doctors often refuse to carry out abortions, and their ‘right to refuse’ is protected by law.
Here in the UK, the Abortion Act of 1967 was brought in to combat life-threatening back-street abortions.
The Act, however, does not extend to Northern Ireland, where abortion practitioners are still punished under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861.
The same set of laws that originally awarded the death penalty for buggery, a slap on the wrist for ‘causing bodily harm to servants’, or a prison sentence for obstructing a clergyman in the execution of his duties.
As a woman of Irish descent myself, currently 20 weeks’ pregnant with my second child, I feel very fortunate to be having my antenatal care carried out here in the UK.
My fertility is subject to my own choice, and I know that in the very worst case scenario that my pregnancy should take an unhealthy turn for the worst, doctors will, by law, have to put aside any of their personal religious beliefs in order to treat me.
But this choice of care is not one I take for granted, as it is greatly threatened, perhaps now more than at any time since 1967.
Right-wing Christian pressure groups posing as ‘pregnancy advisory services’ can be found throughout every UK town, and earlier this year we saw anti-abortion campaigners telling schoolchildren that abortions cause cancer.
Women attending abortion clinics are still routinely faced with harassment, placards showing photos of foetuses and verbal abuse.
Meanwhile, many fear that the Conservative-led government are steering us towards a US Republican-style attack on women’s reproductive rights.
Jeremy Hunt, several other high profile Tories, and Nadine Dorres have all been outspoken in their support of a proposed reduction of the current abortion limit of 24 weeks.
Whether the Tories would ever actually have the nerve to try and restrict access to one of the most important women’s services is unlikely, however the women of England, Scotland and Wales must be under no illusion that their reproductive choices are supported by their government any more so than that of their Irish sisters.
The gruesome placards and anti-abortion leaflets distributed outside Marie Stopes centres daily may as well have a Conservative stamp of approval on them.
Something to be suffered by women at what is, for many, the darkest possible time of their life.
Low income, single parenthood, relationship breakdown, youth, rape, or just not wanting to be a mother: there’s a million reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion.
But not one valid reason why anyone should stop her.