Protests over the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012. Photo: Getty
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Violation after violation: why did Ireland force a woman on hunger strike to bear her rapist's child?

As an onlooker to this case, what strikes me is the constant traffic of foreign objects through this woman’s body, imposing foreign wills. 

When do women in Ireland get to say “no”? Today we find out that the answer is “never”, not really – not if a man has other ideas and the state decides to enforce his use of a woman’s body. The story reported in today’s Sunday Times is a catalogue of violation. First, a woman was raped (violation one). She sought an abortion but apparently doctors obstructed her from getting the treatment she needed (violation two); although many Irish women travel to the UK in this situation, the woman in this case could not because she was a foreign national with uncertain immigration status, and her limited English likely compounded her vulnerability.

Desperate at this stage, she expressed suicidal intent and went on hunger and fluid strike: the Health Service Executive (HSE) obtained a court order under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 for the forcible rehydration of the woman (violation three). Finally in early August, a certificate was issued allowing for a medical procedure to be carried out upon the woman: the next day, the baby was delivered by caesarean (violation four), at 24-26 weeks gestation, which is the very cusp of viability. The baby is still receiving medical care. The condition of the woman has not been reported.

The provisional nature of their control over their own bodies is a fact that women in Ireland negotiate day after day, a drag of inconvenience that can matter more or less depending on what resources you have to resist it and how urgent your condition is. For some, it’s a matter of shopping around to find a GP who doesn’t insist on checking what your husband thinks of your contraceptive routine; for some, it’s a plane ticket to a London clinic to get the abortion you can’t get at home; for some, it’s eating baked beans for dinner while you save up for that ticket; for Savita Halappanavar in 2012, it was death, when doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy even though she was having a miscarriage that lead to her contracting a fatal infection.

In fact, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was introduced in response to Halappanavar’s death, and public horror at the evident lack of regard for a woman’s health and survival. There is, however, one severe problem with the Preservation of Life During Pregnancy Act: in accordance with the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1983, the life of the foetus is considered to be a “human life” as much as the pregnant woman’s and accorded equal rights. In the section on termination for suicidal women, the 2013 Act reads:

(1) It shall be lawful to carry out a medical procedure in respect of a pregnant woman in accordance with this section in the course of which, or as a result of which, an unborn human life is ended where—

(a) subject to section 19, three medical practitioners, having examined the pregnant woman, have jointly certified in good faith that—

(i) there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman’s life by way of suicide, and

(ii) in their reasonable opinion (being an opinion formed in good faith which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable) that risk can only be averted by carrying out the medical procedure”

In other words, what happened to the woman in today’s case was not only absolutely barbaric, also appears to have been absolutely within the remit of the law: if “the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable” is a statutory obligation, why not ignore a woman’s pleas for safe, elective termination and force fluids in her instead? Why not surgically extract the foetus as soon as it has the potential of independent life? The foetus was even supplied with its own separate legal team by the Irish courts, in a dramatic illustration of the tussle for control of the female body that takes place during pregnancy. She becomes just a resource to be commandeered by the state on behalf of that “unborn life” which is inexplicably so much more valued than the ex-utero life of the traumatised woman.

And what trauma. As an onlooker to this case, what strikes me is the constant traffic of foreign objects through this woman’s body, imposing foreign wills. The penis of the rapist who forced himself into her. The nasogastric tube stuck into her nostril and down against her resisting throat. The scalpel of the doctors who cut her open, their hands in her belly, the moving horror of another body within your restrained flesh. The unbelievable awfulness of being compelled to provide life to the child of the man who raped you. And the terrible silence of voicelessness, a woman with no tongue that would let her be heard. This is the violence the Irish state imposes on women. This is why Irish women are campaigning to “Repeal the Eighth”: because women know that we are human, and none of us should have to live under a law that says otherwise.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.