Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Abortion issue in sorry State, both north and south

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Health Minister Edwin Poots

You could call it a farce, but the truth is it's a tragedy. A young, impoverished woman is raped in her home country, arrives in Ireland and realises, with horror, that she is pregnant. She is terrified, devastated, speaks of ending her own life.

By any standards these are atrocious circumstances in which decisive and humane State action is so obviously needed. But she is met, instead, with a brick wall of wilfully dense bureaucracy.

Psychiatric reports confirm that she is, indeed, suicidal and there is supposed to be a new law to help women who find themselves in this awful predicament.

But still nothing happens, the weeks drag by and the increasingly distraught woman – a girl, really, only just turned 18 and not long arrived from abroad – begins to starve herself in protest: the one measure of control she has over a violated body which, at this stage, may no longer feel like her own.

Finally, she is compelled to undergo a Caesarean section at 25 weeks – a full 17 weeks after she first requested a termination – to ensure the safe delivery of her premature baby, which is whisked away and placed in the care of the State.

Time. That's what it's all about. And with situations like this, there is so little of it. The Irish authorities behaved as though they had all the time in the world to deal with the crisis, moving with glacial slowness while the girl was left to writhe helplessly in her own personal limbo.

But maybe that's exactly what they intended. Wait until the viability barrier has passed, then induce the baby. That's a nice result, isn't it?

Nobody dies and the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, which equates the right to life of the unborn with the mother's own right to life, stands proudly intact.

In reality, an already shattered girl has been further traumatised by the callous barbarity of a State that forced her to give birth against her will, and an unwanted child has been brought far too early into the world, and faces a grim and uncertain future.

Both stand cold, unloved and alone. Yet none of this had to happen if the Irish Government had acted morally and humanely, and with appropriate urgency, right at the start when the young woman first made her request.

Foot-dragging and deliberate inertia have become the hallmarks of those who wish to force women to carry children they do not want to bear.

It's a very familiar trick in the north. In fact, Health Minister Edwin Poots is giving a masterclass in delaying tactics right now.

Justice Minister David Ford is preparing to launch his consultation on the legal framework for abortion and has invited Mr Poots to run his own consultation, on where abortions can be carried out, at the same time, or even to amalgamate the two.

But Mr Poots swiftly rejected the idea of a joint approach, coming up with some pompous waffle about being "mindful" that such a plan risked creating "unnecessary confusion". Unnecessary confusion? Presumably that would be in contrast to the 'necessary' kind, which Mr Poots – clearly Stormont's resident ironist – appears happy to preside over.

Those who oppose choice are resistant to clarity because they know that will mean allowing terminations to take place in certain circumstances.

They prefer the useless jumble of old laws we've inherited from the Victorians and the uncertainty those laws create, because that allows them to keep their moral principles shiny and clean.

Fastidious and smug, they simply look the other way, presumably contemplating the sanctity of life when desperate women shuffle off to England to have their 'problem' dealt with there.

What will it take to convey the overwhelming urgency of this issue? What will get the message through the thick, complacent skulls of our politicians?

Amid the outrage over the dreadful case in the south, I was struck by the words of one anonymous Irish victim of rape on the Vixens with Convictions blog.

"I can't imagine ever feeling worse than this, but when my mind ponders the possibility of being forced to bear a child as a consequence of what happened to me, I can feel myself breaking inside," she says.

"Something must be done and I am at a loss in terms of vocalising just how we will succeed in reclaiming the bodies that have been 'ours' since birth. Is that a free country? Is that free will? Are we even free at all?"

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz