Wednesday 27 March 2013

40 Days for Life and so called ‘turnarounds’

This article published in The Guardian yesterday highlights the actions of members of US based anti-abortion campaign 40 Days for Life in the UK. Laura from EFC takes a deeper look at what’s behind the ‘peaceful’ prayer vigils they carry out.

As we approach the end of 40 Days for Life’s most recent spate of prayer vigils it was good to see an article highlighting the negative impact of the misinformation they give out to pregnant women about abortion. 40DfL are often able to hide behind their claim that they are merely praying peacefully outside clinics which provide abortion, but unfortunately they are also providing dangerous medical information to those entering or passing by the clinics. The Guardian article notes:
Flicking through a 40 Days leaflet...saturated in emotive language about "your tiny baby", its pseudo-medical statements imply that abortions often cause "serious physical complications" – a tactic that has earned them the moniker 40 Days for Lies among counter-protesters.
We have written before about 40DfL’s links with crisis pregnancy centres which give misinformation to pregnant women. But there was one part of this particular article which stayed with me. A man named Joseph who represents 40DfL claims to have persuaded a girl of 12 not to have an abortion after confronting her outside a BPAS clinic in London:
"She was 12 years old," he says excitedly, "and she didn't even know who the father was. Dead set on abortion. Now she's gone inside for an ultrasound, but she's agreed to come along with me afterwards. We have a clinic where she can get the loving help she needs to carry her baby full-term."
There are serious issues with this. First of all, at 12, this girl is legally unable to consent to sex and this case becomes a matter of child protection. Beyond that, we know that those young women who have been given the space and support to make their own pregnancy decision (free from pressure and coercion) are more likely to have positive outcomes whether they choose to continue or end the pregnancy. We might also question if it is appropriate to enforce one’s own moral views on a young woman who may have little to no support to raise a child, or a desire to do so. The 40DfL doorsteppers aren’t trained counsellors, they have no knowledge of this young woman’s life experiences, desires and needs, only an ideological desire to ‘save her baby’. As the author of the Guardian article points out, the effects on these so called ‘turnarounds’, AKA real women with real lives ‘will be lifelong’.

Except, you see, this 12 year old didn’t actually exist. Following the publication of the article BPAS confirmed that they hadn’t actually seen anyone of that age in the clinic.

This means that 40DfL thought that the fabrication of a 12 year old girl ‘dead set on abortion’ would be a compelling story to further their cause. That the public would understand and warm to a campaign which attempts to convince women to forgo professional medical advice for biased and misleading information based purely on the desire to prevent abortion. This imaginary figure may not exist, but unfortunately the tactics used to coerce and stigmatise other vulnerable women do. And I for one am shocked that 40DfL would gloat about them.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Irish Hospital Prepared to Forcibly Perform a C-Section on Non-Consenting Woman

EFC volunteer Sarah writes about a recent court case in Ireland which could have required a pregnant woman to undergo a caesarean section against her will.

How would you feel if I told you that a hospital in Ireland went to court last week, because they felt it necessary to tie down a woman, forcibly give her an anaesthetic, and slice open her abdomen, then her uterus? Horrified; disgusted; transported back to a time of symphysiotomies and the Magdalene Laundries? Well, they did.

Last Saturday morning, Waterford Regional Hospital made an emergency application to the High Court in an attempt to compel a pregnant woman to undergo a caesarean section. Lawyers for the hospital said that the woman was refusing to give consent for the procedure, but that a “natural” birth would pose a risk to her unborn child. The woman had a scar on her uterus from a previous caesarean and there was a risk that it would rupture during a vaginal delivery. If this were to happen the baby could have died or have had severe brain damage and the woman herself would have been at risk of a haemorrhage.

The medical staff said that the latest scans were “non-reassuring” and the consultant obstetrician said that he had “advised her strongly” to have a caesarean. The Senior Counsel for the hospital stated that the Judge needed to balance the right of the woman to refuse medical treatment versus the right to life of the unborn child. The right to life of the unborn is guaranteed in the Irish Constitution under Article 40.3.3 °. Just before the Judge was about to rule on the case, the court heard that the woman had “consented” to a C-section and an emergency order was no longer necessary.

In the six news articles I’ve read on this story, there isn’t any mention of why the woman wanted to opt for a vaginal birth; the only reference is that she would have “liked” to. She may have had a perfectly valid, well thought-out reason, but the mainstream press don’t seem too concerned about the actual wishes of this person. It does say that over the weekend she began to waver between consenting to the procedure on the Sunday or Monday as she wanted her husband to be present if possible; the medical staff did not consider this a reasonable request.

The risks associated with a caesarean include increased risk of bleeding, infection of the incision, the urinary tract, or the tissue lining the uterus, injury to surrounding organs such as the bladder and the bowel, and in rare cases blood clots, wound hematoma, and pulmonary embolus. Now, I understand that this case had its own particular risks associated with undergoing a vaginal birth. However it’s not as if the doctors were asking this woman to undergo an easy, risk-free option. A C-section comes with its own dangers and as this woman is a consenting adult who had undergone the procedure before, we have to assume that she was well aware of this. The right to refuse medical treatment exists because we trust people to make their own decisions about their bodies.

This case is reminiscent of the attitude taken when symphysiotomies were performed on women against or without their consent. This procedure involved sawing open a woman’s pelvic bone during childbirth. The subsequent childbirth was excruciating, the recovery time was lengthy, and many were left incontinent and/or incapable of enjoying sexual activity. The practice was used so as to avoid performing a C-section, which limited the amount of children a woman could have. It was used by doctors who objected to family planning and was performed on women in Ireland up until 1984.

Under Irish law, women are treated as incubators. The right to bodily autonomy is just one of the many rights which we no longer have while pregnant. Our right to health is automatically diminished, as we have no option to take the less-risky route of terminating the pregnancy. Rape victims have no right to choose not to go through the added trauma of invasive exams, ante- and post-natal care, and the birth process. Women with non-viable foetuses have no right not to extend this heartbreak for further months and go through the trauma of birth. We are bearers of children and little else. If we are not willing to give ourselves over to this task we can be restrained, refused measures to preserve our health, and in some cases, forced to sacrifice our lives.

This case made clear the lack of respect given for women’s decisions about their own bodies. If this woman had continued to withhold her consent and the court order granted, hospital staff were prepared to physically restrain her and cut her open against her will. This is yet another example of the disempowering and dangerous effects the 8th Amendment has on women. If Irish people want to achieve any semblance of equality between the genders, we have to fight for its repeal.