Thursday, February 04, 2010

From Irish Ireland's War on Women

You wouldn’t expect a country like Ireland to be accused of breaching human rights. Our little green nation is best known for its rich culture and friendly customs. We’ve never invaded another country or annoyed anyone too much.

But on Thursday the respected international advocacy group Human Rights Watch published a report saying Ireland deprives many of its citizens of their basic entitlements.

The report is called “A State of Isolation.” It tells how the government blocks the way of women who look for information on abortion or seek care abroad.

Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocacy director at HRW, said such women “are actively stonewalled, stigmatized, and written out."

Today in Ireland, abortion is allowed if a woman’s life is at risk. But otherwise a woman who has one potentially faces a life term – yes, life – in prison.

It’s a good time to recall that the Irish government has not yet agreed to compensate the women who spent decades, some of them a lifetime, imprisoned in the Magdalene Laundries, often for crimes that included getting pregnant or giving birth.

Not that government policy has prevented terminations. Every year thousands of women and girls (7,000 by one estimate) travel from Ireland to other European countries in order to end their pregnancies. Officials may have tried to stop abortion, but all that has happened is that the country has inadvertently outsourced it.

In this sense Irish women have been lucky. The price of a botched backstreet abortion is high: in the developing world 68,000 women die of complications every year, according to a BBC report.

The European Court of Human Rights is currently considering the case of three Irish women who argue their rights were denied because they were forced to abort outside their home state: one was a former substance abuser whose other children were in care; one wished to avoid an ectopic pregnancy (where the fetus develops outside the womb); the third became pregnant while undergoing chemotherapy and feared for her own well-being, as well as the child’s.

This decade has seen a plague of problems afflict Ireland: sex abuse revelations in the Catholic Church, political corruption, and more recently, an economic crisis, the housing boom and bust, and some environmental issues too. Many real crimes have occurred and gone unpunished.

The phrase “war on women” gained currency to refer to the experiences of women living in places far away from Ireland. But Ireland should take heed. It’s time to give women a choice in this vital matter. This is 2010, not 1950.

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