Monthly Archives: November 2012

Ireland: another abortion scandal emerges

The Irish Government has paid substantial compensation to a woman who was forced to travel abroad for an abortion, despite being terminally ill with cancer.

Michelle Harte, of Co Wexford, sued for violation of her human rights last year. In 2010, after she became unintentionally pregnant while suffering from a malignant melanoma, doctors at Cork University Hospital advised her to terminate her pregnancy because of the risk to her health. Her obstetrician was willing to perform a termination but was “hamstrung” by legal issues. The matter was referred to the hospital’s “ad hoc” ethics committee. which decided against authorising an abortion on the basis that her life was not under “immediate threat”.

Ms Harte has since died from her cancer.

Because of delays caused by her not having a passport and the time it took for the hospital to reach its decision, her condition deteriorated and she was not able to receive cancer treatment because of her pregnancy. Eventually she travelled, with great difficulty, to Britain for the abortion.

Ms Harte’s lawyers then sued the State on her behalf for infringing her rights under the ABC case, in which the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had breached the human rights of a woman with cancer who had to travel abroad to get an abortion.

National Secular Society | 22 Nov 2012

The Church of England can no longer continue as an arm of the state

Vicar Rose Hudson-Wilkin was widely expected to become the CofE’s first woman bishop until the vote. Photograph: Carl Court

Up until now I cannot say I have been overly concerned with female vicars. That one in Dibley seems fun but mostly I am with Bill Hicks: “Women priests. Great, great. Now there’s priests of both sexes I don’t listen to.” I don’t believe or even pretend to believe in order to get my kids into the right schools.

Nor am I under illusion that the Church of England is some hippy-dippy hirsute cerebral force for good. Bits of it may well be. When I lived in London’s King’s Cross, the local vicar – “Trev the Rev”, as he was known – let the prostitutes sleep in the church when they were under assault from vicious punters and the police. This seemed to me a fine Christian thing to do. But for every Trev the Rev there is some reactionary gittish vicar determined to keep up the fine traditions of homophobia and misogyny.

Unity in the church is a joke. When I asked my local vicar if I could use his church for a blessing ceremony using a female Baptist minister, he made clear his feelings about women vicars. But half a mile up the road the clergy were in the middle of a big gay picnic and had no problem with anyone using their building. For a donation. Which is fair enough.

One encounters these inner-city vicars who don’t seem to mind what you believe – some will even say that the resurrection is but a metaphor – but don’t be fooled. At the heart of the church is a steely core of evangelicals who have far more say than they should. The provisional wing of the CofE is as fundamentalist as they come: the one thing that all fundamentalisms share is the need to keep women in their place.

Thus we had the farce of the vote against women bishops when there have been women priests for 20 years, which the majority of the congregation accepts. To ban those women from promotion is discrimination that would not be acceptable in any other walk of life. The church, with its mystifying voting process, looks not only archaic but also impotent as the vast majority of the synod did not want this result. They are praying for resolution. Sometimes prayers are not enough.

As the conservative MP who speaks for the synod in parliament said: “I think the great danger for the church following the vote is that it will be seen increasingly as just like any other sect.” Indeed, this is how many of us already regard it. The question then becomes how can the church continue to function as an arm of the state when it endorses such out-and-out prejudice?

Remember there are already 3,600 women priests in the church and 37 women Anglican bishops worldwide. Africa has just got its first woman bishop. So now we lag behind Swaziland.

The issue is not belief – people can believe in fairies as far as I am concerned – it is the relationship between church and state. In this crazy chess game, the head of the Church of England, the Queen, could not be a bishop. David Cameron has urged them to “get on with it” – ie, vote the right way for the church – but not conforming to equality legislation is untenable.

It is worth understanding what the objection to women as bishops is based on. Evangelicals believe that women cannot exercise authority over men. They use scripture (St Paul’s letters) to justify this: “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.” Thus a man could never swear a canonical oath to a woman bishop. Other objections rest on the fact that Jesus chose only male disciples. Was Jesus sexist? And that before The Fall, when it all went wrong, women existed to act only as helpers to men. I venture that the people, many of them women, who believe such things are unlikely to be swayed by new-fangled notions of equality. But why should they hold such sway in the church and why should the church hold such sway in our land?

Away from theological debate, other issues are at stake. Money, for instance. Reform, the group that represents the evangelicals, holds the rest of the church to ransom by constantly reminding the House of Bishops of its financial clout. In 2010 Reform wrote a letter mentioning the £38m that it had added to the CofE central coffers. The threat that these people withdraw completely from the CofE appears to paralyse the church – but surely the situation has become ridiculous.

The church, in seeking to be above the law, is now a discriminatory organisation, though it holds 26 seats in the House in Lords, from which women are barred. This effective debarring of women from the legislative process is more than an “embarrassment”, it is profoundly undemocratic.

A secular country – and that is largely what we are – should have no truck with this. Why on earth should we respect this bizarre sect any longer? The separation of church and state is long overdue. An institution that allows the maintenance of a stained glass ceiling for its female clergy to bang their heads against should not only lose its moral authority. Let it also lose its unearned privileges.

The Guardian | Suzanne Moore | 21 November 2012

After Savita’s death, the brutal irony of “pro-life” is exposed

Savita Halappanavar, 31, died of septicaemia a week after being found to be miscarrying while at a Galway hospital. Photograph: Photo Courtesy: The Irish Times

Anti-abortion groups’ response to a young woman’s tragic death in Ireland exposes their scant regard for women’s lives

Anti-abortion campaigners can be callous, but Savita Halappanavar is not the kind of woman they find easy to dismiss. She wanted to have children, and part of the anti-abortion pretence is that mothers are the only women who count, and restricting terminations is good for mothers. In contrast to this fiction, NHS Choices explains how treatment of miscarriage may involve inducing early labour or evacuating the womb contents – in other words, performing an abortion – to prevent infections like that which killed Halappanavar.

Not that you’d have any idea of best practice from reading Youth Defence’s response. The organisation (which professes to be “protecting mothers and babies by keeping abortion out of Ireland”) issued a self-contradictory statement claiming Halappanavar’s death wasn’t due to Ireland’s abortion ban, and anyway, the procedure doctors refused to perform wouldn’t have been an abortion, but instead classed with “interventions to deal with the cause of the illness … not considered a therapeutic termination of pregnancy”.

Live Action News brought out a grasping reiteration of its favourite refrain, “abortion never saves a woman’s life. It just kills a baby.” Writer Josh Craddock determined that Halappanavar’s death could be blamed on the belated delivery of antibiotics, rather than the lengthy exposure to infection caused by leaving her to miscarry over many days. And you can trust him, he’s a doctor. Sorry, not a doctor: a PPE student who had read some newspaper reports on the case.

Craddock also decided that it wasn’t Ireland’s law at fault, but “pro-choice advocates” for “obfuscating between interventions that risk the life of the unborn child and direct abortion”. Perhaps he was getting “pro-choice advocates” confused with the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which opposes abortion in all circumstances – including, according to its statement, circumstances in which a woman’s life is imperilled by continuing the pregnancy. *

“Rather than removing the protection of the womb from unborn children, the ethical response to emergency situations in pregnancy is medical treatment of the mother for the conditions causing the emergency,” says SPUC. There’s no acknowledgment that the “protection” referred to is for a woman who may die in the process, possibly because SPUC considers the worthlessness of women to be so self-evident it is unworthy of explanation.

Even more compassionate anti-abortion voices reveal their commitment to a brutal hierarchy of life. While there are many principled pro-choice Catholics, the Catholic Herald follows an anti-abortion editorial line. Its commentary on Halappanavar bemoans “a heretical misreading of Catholic moral law” in her reported treatment – termination should have been permitted once “[i]t was clear that [Halappanavar’s] death would in any case lead to the death of the child”. But note that Halappanavar’s life is subordinate to that of the foetus – according to this formulation, her death would apparently be acceptable if the foetus could survive at her expense. Some people have a funny way of being “pro-life”.

Then there’s Judith Woods in the Telegraph. “What a shameful time to be Irish, Catholic and anti-abortion,” she writes affectingly. “As I’m all three, I hang my head in mortification.” She goes on to explain why she hopes Halappanavar’s case won’t lead to liberalisation in Ireland: “Once you have seen four cells under a microscope in an IVF laboratory and by some miracle witnessed them become an embryo, then a foetus, a baby, a little girl, it is utterly impossible not to believe that life begins at the moment sperm and egg fuse.”

If Woods understands IVF, presumably she knows that several embryos are created for each attempted pregnancy: treating each one as if it were the moral equivalent of a child would mean implanting them all, and exposing the woman to the dangers of multiple pregnancy – and the embryos to a competitive uterine environment that would mean none of them survive. Even the self-professedly pro-life tend to recognise in practice that women must control their fertility, or be dragged under by the consequences. Savita was a living woman, full of light and love, and in her last duress doctors denied her that control. The poverty of anti-abortion rationalisations tells us exactly how little value such logic really places on women’s lives.

The Guardian | Sarah Ditum | Monday 19 November 2012

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