Workers Vanguard No. 1054
17 October 2014
Ireland: Anti-Abortion Hell for Women
The following article is reprinted from Workers Hammer No. 228 (Autumn 2014), newspaper of our comrades of the Spartacist League/Britain.
DUBLIN—It’s been nearly two years since the horrific and utterly preventable death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital due to medical authorities’ refusal to terminate her pregnancy. Protests rocked Ireland when it was revealed that Savita, admitted to hospital suffering a miscarriage, was denied an abortion that would have saved her life because, as her husband was told, “this is a Catholic country.” Last year, in the wake of the protests, the Fine Gael/Labour government brought in new legislation—the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act”—to deal with the abortion crisis. Now the barbarity of the Irish clericalist state towards women has been laid bare, again: a young immigrant woman, pregnant as a result of rape, is denied an abortion, rendered suicidal and forced to undergo delivery of a baby by caesarean section.
In an interview with Kitty Holland published in the Irish Times (23 August), the young woman told her harrowing story. Shortly after arriving in Ireland last March she found out that she was eight weeks pregnant as a result of the rape she had suffered before fleeing her country. She asked for an abortion at that time, which would necessitate travelling to Britain. For non-EU immigrants, travel to Britain for an abortion involves huge obstacles, including a lengthy visa application process and extortionate costs. The woman explained that with weeks passing she became very distraught; however only when she became suicidal, around the 15th week of pregnancy, did she qualify for assessment by the state for a “termination of pregnancy.” This assessment, mandated by the new law, amounts to an inquisition by two psychiatrists and an obstetrician who determine if the woman is “genuinely” suicidal, and then decide the options. In this case, the assessment didn’t take place until around week 25 of the woman’s pregnancy and she was informed that, suicidal or not, she was too far along in the pregnancy to permit an abortion.
Over the course of the next three weeks, the woman twice went on hunger strike. She ended her first hunger strike when told that she could have an abortion, only afterwards to be told that she would be forced to have the baby. Twenty-six weeks into the pregnancy, the baby was delivered by caesarean section.
In the wake of Savita Halappanavar’s death, liberals and leftists demanded that the government finally “Legislate for X,” referring to the Supreme Court ruling of 1992, which overturned the ban on a young suicidal rape victim travelling to Britain to seek an abortion. That ruling, made in response to huge social protests, ordered the government to make limited provisions for abortion where the life of the woman was at risk, including through suicide. For the next 22 years each Irish government refused to touch the question of abortion legislation, and for 22 years reformist groups like the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party limited their calls to the framework of “Legislate for X.” Now they have their legislation. Not only does it not increase the availability of abortion, it introduces up to 14 years in prison for carrying out an abortion.
In contrast to the wretched social democrats, we Spartacists have consistently called for free abortion on demand; i.e., what women living in Ireland need. We have no illusions this will be easy to achieve. However the truth is that the only way to win any meaningful abortion rights (and decent health and childcare provision) is through mass struggle against the capitalist state, the church and the reactionary anti-woman forces behind it. Only such struggle, based on the working class, can lead to free access to this safe medical procedure for women from all classes in Ireland.
It is not out of naiveté that the social- democratic Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party limit their calls for abortion rights to what might be “possible,” despite defeat after defeat. In thrall to the capitalist order, reformists seek to corral mass outrage—such as the eruption in the wake of the 2012 abortion atrocity—into “struggle” neatly bound by what is acceptable under the rule of the capitalist state and Catholic hierarchy. Hence their demand to “Legislate for X.” Newly elected Socialist Party TD [member of lower house of Irish parliament] Ruth Coppinger issued an 18 August statement demanding “Abortion must immediately be made available in cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities and where there’s a threat to the health of a woman” (socialistparty.ie). But what about the vast majority of unwanted pregnancies which are just that—unwanted?
Coppinger rightly says that the “8th Amendment must go,” that is the 1983 amendment to the Irish constitution that enshrines a ban on abortion. However, she looks not to mass mobilisations but to the Labour Party which she calls on to “ensure there is a referendum to get rid of the 8th Amendment by the Spring of next year at the latest.” Labour—the very party that just last year, together with Fine Gael, legislated for up to 14 years imprisonment for procuring an abortion—is now expected to aid in the liberation of women?
All the reformist and liberal campaigns for abortion rights refuse to take on the church, fearing the enormous reactionary backlash the bishops can and do unleash. From education to healthcare, in Ireland the Catholic church and the state are utterly intertwined. While much of the population is far less beholden to the church today, especially after the revelations regarding the brutalities of the church-run “industrial schools,” Magdalene laundries and the “homes” for single parents, the church hasn’t relinquished its hold over Irish society. Today, over 90 per cent of schools are owned and run by the church, with the state paying the teachers’ salaries.
Similarly, while hospital staff are often state employees, the “ethos” of many hospitals is still laid down by religious orders. The notorious Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity still run two of the largest general hospitals and one of the children’s hospitals in Dublin. These are the same orders that carried out the decades-long physical and mental torture inflicted on the child inmates of the “industrial schools.” The chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Maternity Hospital and the other children’s hospital in Dublin is none other than the Archbishop of Dublin. This is not to mention the number of unidentified lay Catholic organisations, such as the sinister Opus Dei, that ensure their members occupy key positions in health and education.
Birth control and abortion remain restricted throughout the capitalist world by the state, by the institution of the family and by organised religion, which all serve to enforce the oppression of women. The road to emancipation for women will be opened only with the destruction of the capitalist system through workers revolution.
The article “Ireland: Anti-Abortion Hell for Women” (WV No. 1054, 17 October) mistakenly stated that the young woman’s hunger strikes took place over three weeks. In fact, it was two weeks. (From WV No. 1057, 28 November 2014.)