Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry received a letter from 55 members of the US Congress asking him to address what they see as the human rights violations of women in El Salvador.

Amnesty International explains the background:

El Salvador banned abortion in all circumstances in 1998….. Women and girls found guilty of having an abortion face a prison sentence of two to eight years. Health care providers who assist them face up to 12 years in prison….. Women who have had miscarriages have been charged with aggravated homicide, a charge which can bring a sentence of up to 50 years in prison. Amnesty International has documented the cases of many women who have been sentenced to decades in prison after having a miscarriage.

According to the BBC:

El Salvador is not the only country in Latin America to have such strict laws, but it is particularly strict in enforcing it. Doctors have to inform the authorities if they think a woman has tried to end her pregnancy. If they fail to report such cases, they, too, could face long sentences in jail. The result is what human rights groups are calling a criminalisation of miscarriages and medical emergencies.

San Salvador’s auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez was quoted as saying: “Every human life is sacred. To get rid of that is committing murder. If there are two lives in danger, you have to save the one that’s most fragile and that’s the child”.

So El Salvador is being entirely logical in how it enshrines Roman Catholic theology (can that be the right word in to describe such a cruel policy?) in its civil law.

If I may repeat myself, even in Ireland we implicitly, and necessarily, recognise that the death of a foetus does not warrant the same legal protection as the death of a child or adult.  For otherwise our law would require that, every time a woman becomes pregnant but fails to deliver a live baby in due course, there would be a full and formal legal Inquest into the “death” of the “person” .   Under Irish law, an Inquest must be held if a coroner has reasonable cause to believe that a death occurred suddenly and/or from unknown causes.  That we don’t subject women to such a ridiculous process every time there is a miscarriage during a pregnancy demonstrates that even in Ireland we are prepared to accept that in practice a foetus does not warrant the same legal due process and protection as a fully formed human being.

I suspect that if we did follow the anti-abortionists’ logic and launch a full Inquest every time a woman suffered a miscarriage, just in case there had been some intent on her part to induce the miscarriage, or negligence in this regard, then we would see an uproar from all sane people, and Amnesty International and US politicians would be on our case with a vengeance.

But requiring an inquest in these circumstances would be the logical (but crazy) outcome of the call for the “unborn” to have the same legal rights as a child or adult. Sometimes those guilty of folly and cruelty need to be shown a reductio as absurdum to help change their mindset.

We are, one might surmise, less savage in our laws (or their implementation) than El Salvador is; but we are undoubtedly less consistent too. If we are to enshrine the doctrine of a particular religion in our laws, then why don’t we go the whole hog, just as Iran or Saudi Arabia do?

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My recent reading has been the diaries of James Lees-Milne, which are interesting on a number of levels despite (or maybe because of) his snobbery and social-climbing.  He was a friend of the Earl of Rosse of Birr Castle in County Offaly and, during a visit thereto in 1948, he wrote the following about Ireland in his diary:

“I wish I could define properly what it is I do not like about the climate, the people and the scenery.  My dislike is almost intuitive, certainly temperamental and racial.  I fear the native hostility under the mask of deceit.”

Lees-Milne, who had converted to Catholicism, continued:

“At Mass the church here is so crowded that one cannot worship.  Irish Catholicism is like a vice, crushing the congregation like nuts.  The Irish God is not loving.  He is a tyrant.  The people are tight within his grasp.  Unlike Latins they are subdued by the Church, not elevated by it.  They derive from it no inspiration, recreation or romance.  Here it is grey and puritanical.”

He was writing 66 years ago, but some of the noxious influences he detected are still at play in this country.  The current case of the young non-national girl who had been raped and was denied an abortion despite being suicidal is shocking, and it exposes the extent to which our law is still influenced by tyrannical and absolutist Roman Catholic dogma.

As an aside, on a visit to Ireland 3 years earlier, Lees-Milne had met a “Lord X” – thought to have been Lord Killanin – whose views gave rise to this diary entry:

He says the priests are so bigoted and politically minded that he fears there will be a strong reaction against Catholicism in Ireland within the next generation.  Most of the priests are peasants’ sons, with no true vocation.  They become priests because it gives them social status.  He blames Maynooth College.  A generation ago the neophytes went to Rome.  Now they are totally nationalistic and provincial in outlook.  The Cardinal [probably Joseph MacRory] is positively chauvinistic.  Lord X blames the Vatican for not taking the Irish hierarchy in hand.  The people are kept in great ignorance, as in Spain.

The problems within the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the problems caused by it, are not a recent development. An English Catholic aesthete witnessed them all too clearly in the 1940s.

 

In Britain, Labour MP Frank Field and Conservative MP Nadine Dorries have tabled amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill which, if accepted, could result in a delay to women seeking an abortion.

The amendment will require GPs to refer women with  “crisis pregnancies” to independent organisations who do not themselves carry out the abortions, rather than refer them directly to an abortion provider. The proposal’s alleged aim is to ensure that advice and counselling is not carried out by organisations which may have a  “vested financial interest” in women going ahead with abortions, and to ensure that women are presented with  “all the information” by unbiased organisations.

However, Marie Stopes International believe that the proposed amendments risk limiting women’s access to expert counsellors who are trained in sexual and reproductive health.  They reminded politicians that the critical point was that women have rapid access to impartial, non-directive and expert advice from trained counsellors, if they decide they want it.

Last week, Suzanne Moore in The Guardian wrote an angry (and very frank) piece about the proposed changes and what she sees as their sinister motivation (It’s the same old game. Get your rosaries off my ovaries, as we used to say.)  Below is an extract.

This whole debate around counselling pivots on the idea of deep and private shame, positing the idea of counselling being used to sell an evil procedure. Women are always “vulnerable” dupes, never simply adults who have made decisions. Some weird pension analogy has been brought in, though health care is nothing like it as advice and services do often come from the same people  ie: doctors.

The truth is that, in theory, the argument about abortion is won. Most people, however uncomfortably, support a woman’s right to choose.  We feel that pushing a woman to give birth to a child she does not want is heartless. We know the lengths women go to. The moral cowardice of the Irish polity results in those women, often alone and shivery, whom you see on Ryanair flights.

There is little point trying to persuade those who are religiously opposed to abortion (though I am intrigued at the Catholic attitude to the foetus – miscarried babies are not buried as they are not baptised) but we can simply remind ourselves we are living in a largely secular democracy.

The secular democracy she refers to is, of course, Britain and not Ireland.  Irish politicians have dodged this issue for decades, leaving the Supreme Court to make all the running, and leaving gaps in the process.

As I commented previously, even in Ireland we implicitly, and necessarily,  recognise that the death of a foetus does not warrant the same legal protection as the death of a child or adult.  For otherwise our law would require that, every time a woman becomes pregnant but fails to deliver a live baby in due course, there would be a full and formal legal Inquest into the “death” of the “person” .   Under Irish law, an Inquest must be held if a coroner has reasonable cause to believe that a death occurred suddenly and/or from unknown causes.  That we don’t subject women to such a ridiculous process every time there is a miscarriage during a pregnancy demonstrates that even in Ireland we are prepared to accept that in practice a foetus does not warrant the same legal due process and protection as a fully formed human being.

But too many people continue to pretend otherwise.  For them, I finish with Suzanne Moore’s bitter comment:  “Loving the unborn more than the born is politically convenient, as the unborn do not have to be housed or educated or parented.”