Roe v Wade and our own sorry mess

May 14th, 2022 5:10 PM

By Southern Star Team

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THE irony of the cabinet postponing its decision on the National Maternity Hospital, within a few hours of a leak regarding the striking down of the landmark Roe v Wade decision in the US, hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed.

In the run-up to Trump’s election, many of those who suggested that the Republican candidate and his supporters would seek to restrict access to abortion, were branded scare-mongerers. Even if that is the intention, it will never succeed, they were told.

But now their worst fears have been realised. With what appears to be the stroke of a pen, millions of American women have seen their civil rights rowed back by five decades.

And so, there was an eerie sense of familiarity when the debate over the current National Maternity Hospital began within hours of that leak.  When presented with the memo to sign off the move from Holles Street to the campus of St Vincent’s Hospital, three Fine Gael ministers and one Green minister asked for more time to clarify that all services, including abortion and sterilisation, would be available at the new national maternity hospital.

Since then, more and more details seem to be emerging daily about the deal reached to allow for the new hospital’s construction.

And various ministers, board members and other representatives of the medical profession have come out since and told the women of Ireland there is ‘nothing to worry about’, all is well.

All is well, apparently, because while the hospital will be built on land provided and leased from the current hospital or a linked firm, it will remain ‘secular’ and ‘independent’.

At the end of last month it was reported that the Religious Sisters of Charity had transferred their shares in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, which runs the current hospital. This was in a bid to quell the no-doubt expected controversy over the construction of the new maternity hospital on the St Vincent’s site.

But many will recall that this same religious order was one of the four orders involved in the running of the Magdalene laundries.

And while the move to transfer the nuns’ shares means they have severed any perceived links between the laundries and the new maternity hospital – many Irish women have long memories, and who would blame them?

Both the State and the religious orders in this country have left a horrific legacy for Irish women to navigate. In the years since the laundries were established, we have also had scandals about forced domestic and foreign adoption, the Tuam babies scandal, religious sexual abuse of women and young girls, the Thalidomide scandal, the hepatitis C scandal, the symphysiotomy scandal, the Cervical smear controversy, the ongoing Women of Honour cases … the list goes on, and on.

And so, in many minds, our church and State have a lot in common – but one thing in particular, a history of damaging women’s mental and physical health. And so hearing both institutions mentioned in the same breath, in relation to the current maternity hospital debacle, leaves a very bad taste in many mouths.

No matter how many reassurances are made, or how many times the hospital contract is dissected and analysed, the same question is repeated over and again: why can we not separate church and State completely, when it comes to women’s health? Why can we not, in 2022, ensure that the land our women’s hospitals are constructed on, is totally, entirely and completely owned by the government – in other words, by the people of Ireland?

Is there some invisible umbilical cord connecting the two – is our State not yet sufficiently mature enough to stand on its own in matters of such importance?

All the reassurances in the world won’t cut it for generations of women let down by successive governments.

And this is not just an issue for Irish women – but any woman availing of treatment in this State. Savita Halappanavar’s name can hardly be too far from the lips of any woman being told that there is nothing to worry about here, that phrases like ‘clinically appropriate’ will not be misconstrued, and that the women of Ireland are over-reacting. Sadly, history suggests otherwise.

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