Politicians must become Pro-Woman to stop further horrors

I’m not pro-choice. Nor am I pro-life. I reject both of those labels because they’ve been used in such a pejorative way for so long that they have come to denote extreme views on both sides of the debate around the rights of women and the rights of unborn children that to identify as one automatically makes you a target of hatred and abuse from the other. The recent tribulations of Dawn Purvis, Director of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast are proof, if it were needed, of this.

What I am is pro-woman and no more so than today following the delivery of the judgement of the High Court in Dublin this morning that doctors could remove life support from a pregnant woman who is brain dead.

This case was effectively about the law hampering medical professionals from using their clinical judgement in the treatment of a patient. The medical facts of the case are deeply disturbing and harrowing, set out in this report by Dearbhail McDonald from Christmas Eve. I cannot even begin to contemplate the trauma of the family and indeed medical staff keeping alive a young woman described variously in legal submissions as “the deceased” and a “corpse.

The 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, passed and enacted in 1983 states: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” Doctors sought the court’s permission to withdraw life support, fearing prosecution because of this constitutional position.

The woman’s family wanted life support withdrawn, her father wanting her “to have dignity and be put to rest,” a position shared by the woman’s partner and father of her children – two little children who’d been told the nurses and doctors were watching over Mammy until the angels could come and get her. Medical experts agreed that the chances of the baby surviving if the woman were kept alive until perhaps 32 weeks gestation were very small, certainly her health and numerous infections were a contributing factor to the baby’s viability.

One cannot help but be reminded of the case of Savita Halappanavar who died in Galway University Hospital in 2012. She was seriously ill with sepsis and an abortion might have saved her life but despite her requests, it was denied to her – the 8th amendment a factor in the doctor’s decision.

It may be assumed that this ruling, a 29-page written judgement which will no doubt be studied in great depth in the coming weeks and months, is a victory for common sense which means that the life of a mother may not be artificially sustained in order to ensure an unborn baby reaches viability outside the womb but that is not the case. The court’s finding was very case-specific and determined that the medical evidence in this case lead the three judges to conclude that the continuation of life support for the mother was an exercise in futility in respect of the unborn.

What that means is that we could see another case of similar circumstances back in the High Court in future where a woman is kept alive artificially for three weeks, as in this case, whilst medical tests and legal arguments seek to determine just how likely her baby is to be born alive.

What that means is that another Savita Halappanavar could die because the legal system wouldn’t move quickly enough to deliver a ruling before sepsis killed her.

Before we begin congratulating ourselves in the north that we’re not as backward as Dublin, let me remind you of Sarah Ewart who had to travel to England for an abortion last year when her unborn child was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality and had no chance of surviving after being born.

It doesn’t matter what political jurisdiction you live in on this island, once you’re pregnant the law won’t support or protect you, not even if you’ve been raped or are a victim of incest. Not if your baby can’t survive beyond birth, not if your pregnancy will kill you, not if you’re brain dead. You’ve become merely an incubator – a non-person. In the pursuit of protecting the rights of the unborn child, we are hamstringing the rights of pregnant women. Our political leaders north and south must become pro-woman – that’s the only way we can stop these horrors that never seem to end.

A young woman and her baby will stop breathing today in a Dublin hospital and her Daddy, her partner and her children will mourn their passing. May they rest in peace.

  • eireanne

    well done Patricia. A well written and well argued article. A similar point of view was set forward in https://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/switch-off-the-death-support/
    Nice to see you are not a lone voice of reason!

  • Séamus

    It sounds like you-re pro-choice. You should own that term and not feel in any way ashamed by it.

  • patriciamacb

    I’m not ashamed by the term and I respect anyone’s right to define themselves as pro-choice or indeed pro-life. My own position is much more nuanced and not an absolute on one side or other of the argument. I don’t support abortion on demand, nor do I support an outright ban on abortion which is what we have in effect on the island of Ireland

  • patriciamacb

    Thanks Eireanne for the comment and the link setting out other cases internationally. So sad, no matter the outcome.

  • Dan

    Seems to me that many of the MLAs would dearly wish to muddy the waters with the law here to place all medical staff in similar awkward positions, with the sole intention of preventing any woman from having an abortion….no matter what the cost to her and her family, or her wishes.
    Vicious, religious freaks that they are.

  • Reader

    Surely the whole point of pro-choice / pro-life terminology is that each is a positive expression of the position, and that means that every discussion doesn’t have to begin with dismissively labeling the opposition?
    It would be a backward step for the two sides to revert to calling each other religious-freaks vs. baby-killers before even beginning to address the complicated issues in the extensive grey areas.

  • npbinni

    What a very sad situation for this family.

    Cases of rape, incest and the present one are, indeed, extremely traumatic for everyone involved.

    These types of situations, of course, have been used, along with other genuine arguments, for the passing of legislation allowing abortions in many parts of the world.

    It’s interesting, with an annual abortion rate of over one million in the USA, and the relative large numbers in the UK, that, in reality, of the reasons listed above, only a tiny percentage of these huge numbers of baby deaths can actually be attributed to them. The wholesale slaughter of vast numbers of innocent, unborn babies in the US and UK has, if the truth be told, no relation to the reasons given above.

    That’s the real horror!

    Hundreds and hundreds of thousands lives lost annually, for none of the reasons you mention.

    In other parts of the world, particularly in Asian contexts, the percentage of unborn girls being aborted is truly horrendous. And, revealingly, not a peep from pro-choice/pro-woman advocates.

    You may shy away from being identified as pro-choice and claim a more ambiguous or generic pro-woman label, Patricia, but with your silence on the atrocious abuse of these unborn girls, and those killed because of the inconvenience, it seems like you’re not particularly pro-female.

  • babyface finlayson

    They are positive terms chosen by each side, but the implication is clear.If you are pro-choice then your opponents must be ant-choice, if you are pro-life your opponents must be anti-life. That to me is why each side avoids the others terminology.
    It reminds me of the Good Friday Agreement V Belfast Agreement phrasing though I was never entirely sure how that one came about.

  • chrisjones2


    Well this one sure stands alongside your other posts attacking Islam and advising black people from west africa protesting in London that

    “this show is hatred towards White people. If Africans find it so tough, they should return to their homeland.”

    This time you seem to forget one teensie part of the equation. The women carrying these unwanted children have rights over their bodies. They are not breeding sows to be directed by you or anyone else as to what they should do with their bodies.

    So if they want an abortion then they should have one and frankly its none of your or anyone else’s business

  • chrisjones2

    aw come on…they are only obeying orders from the guy in the sky …..or rather the monks who wrote down ‘his’ words 2000 years ago. And if a monk in AD400 doesn’t know what to do today who can you believe in?

  • Turgon

    This is clearly both a dreadful tragedy and an example of the law creating a problem. However, its relevance outside the dreadful case itself is very limited. Had the family wished the mother kept on life support to try to save her child would that have been different? Had a similar scenario occurred whereby the mother had expressed a wish that she been kept alive to save her child?

    Calling for politicians to become “Pro-Woman” is simply a meaningless platitude and this awful case although it demonstrates how badly the law in the RoI has been applied has little direct relevance elsewhere.

  • Dan

    Is convicted harasser Bernie Smyth still the named contact for the pro-Life group at Stormont?

    ……..I think one of……

    Pat Ramsey, SDLP
    Jim Wells, DUP
    Jonathan Craig, DUP
    Alban Maginness, SDLP
    Mervyn Storey, DUP
    Jim Allister, TUV
    Mark H Durkan, SDLP
    David McIlveen, DUP
    Danny Kennedy, UUP…..

    ……………should clarify her position…..

  • I agree Patricia that both terms (pro life / pro choice) have become incredibly loaded on the island of Ireland and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for a more nuanced position on the debate, so I find myself increasingly avoiding discussion on the topic altogether, despite the fact I think of myself as a feminist.

    This whole situation that you have outlined above is absolutely heartbreaking for this family, I am glad that it has been resolved in a way that can bring them some closure, although very little comfort.

  • chrisjones2

    what and lose all those votes from right wing religious nutters? Come on!

  • npbinni

    I cannot remember when I wrote the quote you inserted, or in what context it was written, but what’s so unusual or unreasonable about encouraging folks to return to their homes if they are not happy here? After all, no one forced them to come here in the first place.

    As for unborn Black and Asian babies who are aborted, the preponderance of whom are female, what rights do they have, Christopher?

    Yea, thought so! So much for claiming to be pro-woman.

    Just before I visited Slugger I noticed this…

  • chrisjones2

    The context you wrote that in was nothing to with abortion.You didn’t like a protest so you told black people who weren’t happy to go home and in effect shut up. Thats simple racism

    You are also trying to mi up two issues to support your sordid little arguments

    I am sorry but in the Uk the ‘babies’ you refer to being aborted aren’t ‘babies’ yet. They are foetuses of varying gestation and incapable of independent life. In any case, that is not the issue. The issue is that the women have a choice about their bodies, thats what matters. Its their choice not yours

    As for what happens in other countries, well that is a matter for the women there and their Governments and constitutions. I wont presume to dictate to them. I leave that to you, once you have evicted them form the UK for daring to express an opinion

  • StevieG

    You are mixing the arguments of a previous post with this one, and widening the point which has no relevance. Your point is that it is the woman’s body and it is her right to do what she wants with it (you put no constraints here and you seem to think that is the end of the argument). It also has no relevance to the point made in this post about the article regarding I guess the argument for allowing abortion on these edge cases (rape, incest and scenarios covered in the article) and associated family and friend input. I do not say that either you or the article author is right or wrong, but I can choose to disagree. No-one I think is arguing about how the perceived legal implications can hamper pragmatic decisions, but, what is not clear to me in the post is how being ‘pro-woman’ in these cases helps? Is it right in all cases to not ‘hamstring’ women’s (anyone’s) rights over of the unborn child’s rights? We could turn it around, and in the vast majority of abortions which are made for more day to day mundane reasons, should we promote the rights of the pregnant woman and hamstring the rights of the unborn child? I’ve no clear answer, neither does the law, but there are cases where abortion is on balance the right option. In many other cases, no for obvious reasons. For good or bad, the Irish constitution recognises the life of the unborn child equally with the mother (Article 40.3.3). This is what you need to deal with in pragmatic terms when talking about abortion in Ireland.

  • npbinni

    Here’s an interesting stat: China’s government estimates that by 2020, 30 million eligible bachelors will be unable to find a wife. (NY Times)

    Do you need three guesses to know why!

    The silence of ‘pro-woman’ advocates is deafening.

  • npbinni

    I notice that no one has tried to guess why within the next five years 30 million eligible Chinese bachelors will be unable to find a wife.

    The NY Times article gives the answer, abeit in a rather euphemistic manner: The imbalance is a result of Chinese using various sex selection methods to have a son under the so-called one-child policy.

    In other words, they aborted the daughters, preferring sons.

    Where’s the outrage and outcry from pro-women groups?

    As I said before, so-called pro-woman proponents are selfishly pro-woman, but they are certainly not pro-female.