Recent Resources for Feminists
Australia: Equal Pay Day Sept 5 reveals women working an extra 64 days to earn same as men Print E-mail

 Thursday September 4 2014

Women must work an extra 64 days to equal mens' pay

By Alana Schetzer/Reporter

Women may be able to do it, but they must work 64 extra days a year to achieve the same wages that men earned in the previous financial year.

Industrial segregation and "unconscious bias" is leading the growing gender pay gap, the head of Australia's Workplace Gender Equality Agency says.

WGEA director Helen Conway said the dominance of men in top-level jobs and a culture of bosses promoting employees they can relate to meant women faced extra hurdles to receive equal pay.

"There is plain discrimination, some of it is conscious and [some] unconscious. There is gender bias in the way we make pay decisions and other ways that impact pay," she said.

"An organisation may pay women and men doing the same jobs the same amounts, but have an organisation-wide gender pay gap because women are under-represented in management, and over-represented in lower-paid roles."

September 5 is Equal Pay Day, which represents the 64 days since the start of the new financial year, when women's earnings match those of their male counterparts.

"Workers in female-dominated industries tend to receive lower wages than those in male-dominated industries, such as mining," Ms Conway said.

Recent Australian Bureau of Statistic figures show the gender pay gap has widened to a 10-year high. Women are now earning less than their male counterparts for the same work since records were first collected in 1994, with an 18.2 per cent difference.

According to the ABS, the average ordinary full-time weekly earnings for men is $1559.10 compared to $1275.90 for women. In the past 12 months, men's average salary increased 2.9 per cent, but women realised an increase of just 1.9 per cent.

The federal government and businesses are facing increasing pressure to address the growing gap

 executive officer Sally Jope said getting more young women into non-traditional industries such as trades, mining and construction was key to helping address the growing wage gap.

"There's no reason why women shouldn't be represented in those industries," she said.

The pay gap starts immediately for most women. A recent report from Graduate Careers Australia revealed the average starting salary for a female university graduate in 2013 was $51,600 compared to men's $55,000. The biggest gap is in architecture and building, where there is a $6500 pay gap.

Women also fall behind in superannuation, with the average retirement fund one third of what men retire on - $37,000 compared to $110,000.

WGEA will launch a new campaign encouraging some of Australia's biggest companies to establish a gender pay audit at the end of September.

More than 4000 chief executive officers and human resource teams will be invited to take part in the program to help lift the current 18 per cent rate of gender pay audits.

India: The Political Economy of Surrogacy - Huge profits vs. Exploitation of Women & Desire Print E-mail

Monday August 25, 2014

Clamour grows for stringent regulation of surrogacy

By Bindu Shajan Perappadan

The ‘rent a womb’ industry in India is witnessing a boom, with infertility affecting one in every six couples. Commercial surrogacy, of which Delhi is a known hub, was legalised in India in 2002. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has predicted the industry will generate $ 2-3 billion annually.

In India, while the exact numbers are not recorded, guess estimates put the number of children born to surrogates at 25,000, with 50 per cent of the clients coming from the West.

What works for India is the cheap medical facilities, advanced reproductive technological know-how, coupled with poor socio-economic conditions, and a lack of regulatory laws.

Accepting that India is fast being recognised as an “attractive option” for commercial surrogacy centre, human rights activists maintain that while commercial surrogacy in itself is welcome “where persons unable to have children are aided by willing surrogates to have their biological children, problem comes in due to the exploitative nature of the business and lack of regulation in the industry”.

“No fixed compensation structure, no laws that cater to the health and number of births that a surrogate can support and usually incomplete advertisements of the services by medical establishments work against the interest of the women involved in the case,’’ said Dr. Ranjana Kumari, director, the Centre for Social Research.

A report on “?”[Read in full HERE] supported by the Ministry of Women and Child Development noted that 46 per cent of respondents in Delhi, and 44 per cent in Mumbai said they received Rs.3 lakh to Rs.3.99 lakh for being a surrogate mother. Among those interviewed, 68 per cent in Delhi and 78 per cent in Mumbai said they were employed mostly as domestic helps earning more than Rs.3,000 a month. “This clearly points to the exploitative nature of business,” noted Dr. Kumari.

There are two main types of surrogacy ­ gestational and traditional and in India it can be arranged through an agency or independently.

“With the country becoming a hub for surrogacy, there is an urgent need for a stringent legal framework to regulate it. The unregulated reproductive tourism industry of ‘procreating’ through surrogacy is rapidly increasing in India, while there is still no legal provision to safeguard the interests of all the major stakeholders involved in the surrogacy arrangement, i.e., the surrogate mother, the child or the commissioning parents,’’ said Dr. Kumari.

According to the study conducted by the Centre for Social Research in 2011-12, it was revealed that though the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Regulation Bill, 2010, did bring forth certain important points, for the legal framework to be based, it has left out many crucial issues relating to surrogacy arrangements.

The study noted that there are many issues besides sex selection and exploitation of the poor surrogate mothers.

“There are countries that do not allow surrogacy; what would the nationality of the child be when the intended parents are from that country? About 48 per cent couples opting for surrogacy are foreigners,” noted the study. The CII notes that the industry is growing in India because it is largely unregulated and cheap.

“Clinics function in tight cliques, with unrelated centres like dental clinics sometimes assisting fertility clinics. Although there are no fixed rules related to the amount of compensation for the surrogate mother, it is arbitrarily decided by the clinics. Often the woman who delivers the baby is paid very less for it. Though the couple who wants to have a baby through surrogate mothers pays anything between Rs.2 lakh and Rs.5 lakh to agents, the woman who delivers the baby gets only Rs.75,000 to Rs. 1 lakh,’’ adde Dr. Kumari.

India: Lack of political will & poverty retain the infamy of nation’s global third of child brides Print E-mail
 Tuesday August 26, 2014

‘Poverty, lack of education undermining efforts to end child marriage’

Scroll down to also read "India Refuses To Co-Sponsor 2013 UN Resolution To End Child Marriage"

The Hindu A United Nations report in July said that India has sixth highest prevalence of child marriage, with one in every three child brides living in the country. (P.V. Sivakumar)

India has witnessed a decline in child marriage in the last two decades, but going by the slow pace it will require another 50 years to abolish the practice from the country, according to UNICEF.

“Child marriage has been declining at a rate of one per cent per year in the last two decades, but at this rate it will be eliminated in 50 years or so,” UNICEF Child Protection Specialist in India Dora Giusti told PTI.

“This is way too long and millions of girls will have married by then,” she warned describing the scenario in the country as “alarming”.

“A study among married women currently aged between 20-24 revealed that 43 per cent of them were married before 18 and two out of every five women during the survey said they were married as children,” Giusti explained.

Incidentally, a United Nations report in July said that India has sixth highest prevalence of child marriage, with one in every three child brides living in the country.

Stressing that the practice of child marriage was still prevalent in certain communities and groups in the country, the UNICEF official held deep-rooted superstitious beliefs as responsible for its slow elimination.

“Child marriage is still a widely accepted practice ruled by social norms and gender roles. Girls are still seen as a burden and not worthy of investing on. For generations, once girls hit puberty, their parents have married them off in the false belief that this will also protect them from violence,” Giusti explained.

“Often communities are resistant to welcome changes. Furthermore, there are other factors, such as poverty, high costs of marriage, lack of education and other opportunities for girls that undermine change the practice,” she elaborated.

Asked if the government’s cash transfer scheme as incentive to encourage retention of girls in school has helped in containing the practice, she said: “A recent study showed that the scheme has helped keep girls in school and therefore delay child marriage, but it did not have a long-term effect as it does not contribute to changing parents’ mental set-up.”

According to the official, “political will” was needed to eradicate child marriage completely from the nation.

“Child marriage can be eliminated completely from the country only if there is a political will at all levels and concerted efforts are undertaken to systematically address it through education, opportunities for girls, better income for families, and continued awareness raising programmes,” Giusti stated.

Tuesday July 22 2014

India home to one in every three child brides in world: UN


 In this June 17, 2012 photo, 16-year-old Vinod of Pali village in Bihar, is seen with his 14-year-old bride Pratima. (Ranjeet Kumar)

About 27 per cent of women aged 20 to 49 years were married before age 15 in India, UNICEF said in a report titled "Ending Child Marriage - Progress and prospects."

India has the sixth highest prevalence of child marriages in the world, with one in every three child bride living in India, a United Nations report said.

Child marriage among girls is most common in South Asia and sub­Saharan Africa and India is among the top 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage, UNICEF said in a report titled “Ending Child Marriage ­ Progress and prospects.”

“South Asia is home to almost half (42 per cent) of all child brides worldwide; India alone accounts for one third of the global total,” the report said.

Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children or before their 18th birthday.

More than one in three ­ about 250 million ­ entered into union before age 15, the report said.

The 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are Niger, Bangladesh, Chad, Mali, Central African Republic, India, Guinea, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Nepal respectively.

In India, about 27 per cent of women aged 20 to 49 years were married before age 15.

About 31 per cent of women in that age group were married after age 15 but before they turned 18.

The report added that in India, the median age at first marriage is 19.7 years for women in the richest quintile compared to 15.4 for the poorest women.

In the Dominican Republic and India, the wealthiest women marry about four years later than the poorest women.

UNICEF said that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage are the two practices that affect millions of girls across the globe.

It said while prevalence has decreased slightly over the past three decades, rates of progress need to be scaled up dramatically to offset population growth in the countries where the practices are most common.

“Female genital mutilation and child marriage profoundly and permanently harm girls, denying them their right to make their own decisions and to reach their full potential.”

“They are detriments to the girls themselves, their families, and their societies,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said.

“Girls are not property; they have the right to determine their destiny. When they do so, everyone benefits.”

 Sunday July 13, 2014

Tamil Nadu: Child marriages rampant in Namakkal district

By S. P. Saravanan

SALEM: The absence of an effective law to curb child marriages and lack of awareness among parents are seen as major reasons for rampant child marriages in Namakkal district.

As many as 176 girl students of government schools had been forced to quit their studies and were married off in the past two years.

A survey conducted by Lead Society and Namakkal Childline 1098 in 40 schools revealed that 176 girls got married, while 14 were engaged.

Marriages were performed while five were studying in Class VIII, 28 in Class IX, 50 in Class X, 47 in Class XI and 46 in Plus-Two. The study revealed that the highest number of child marriages took place in the Pallipalayam area-32.

It was followed by 21 at Senthamangalam, 17 at Mohanur, 16 at Tiruchengode and 15 each at Erumapatti and Puduchatram.

Of the total 117 dropouts reported, the Kolli Hills topped the list with 46, Senthamangalam-17, Elachipalayam-13 and Puduchatram-12. Girls who were found to be discontinuing their studies were married off within a few months.

Age difference
S.L. Sathiya Nesan, director, Lead Society and Childline, Namakkal, told The Hindu that an increase in labour population at Pallipalayam and Senthamangalam was the major cause for child marriages in these areas.

“The age difference between the girl and the man is high in many cases, and the girl’s parents need not give any dowry in such cases,” he added.

“Lack of awareness among the parents and fear of safety of the girls also contribute to the trend,” he said.

He said that on Collector V. Dakshinamoorthy’s instructions, awareness campaigns would be conducted in schools and for parents in vulnerable areas in the district. “We will highlight the welfare schemes, and the child protection laws and ask the parents and children to abide by them,” he added.
 October 16 2013

India Refuses To Co-Sponsor UN Resolution To End Child Marriage

By Hunter Stuart

India, which has more child brides than any nation in the world, has decided not to co-sponsor a United Nations initiative to end child marriage.

The proposal -- the first ever U.N. Human Rights Council resolution against the practice of child, early and forced marriages -- has already been co-sponsored by 107 other countries on multiple continents.

Adopted Sept. 27 in New York, the motion recognizes child marriage as a human rights violation and pledges to eliminate the practice, as part of the U.N.'s post-2015 global development agenda.

India reportedly refused to sponsor the measure because of the resolution's vague definition of "early marriage," The Hindustan Times reports.

"Since early marriage has not been defined anywhere, there was no clarity on the legal implication" of co-sponsoring the resolution, an Indian government official said, per the Times.

But some say that's the wrong move for the South Asian country.

“Early marriage cuts short [girls’] education, places them at risk of domestic abuse and marital rape, and makes them economically dependent,” Human Rights Watch South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly told TIME.

Although the legal age for marriage in India is 18 for girls and 21 for boys, its 24 million underage child brides constitute nearly half of all child brides in the world, according to The Times of India.

Correction: This article has been revised to reflect that the legal age for boys in India to get married is 21.

UK: Low Paid Women excluded from Economy Upswing, with overall gender pay gap rising to 19.1% Print E-mail

 UK ! August 2014

New Research: Low paid women firmly shut out of the recovery

 In a new report Fawcett considers how low paid women, who comprise 1 in 4 of all female employees in the UK, are faring in the emerging recovery.[1]

The report includes analysis of national employment data [2] and a survey of 1,003 low paid women [3]. Read full report HERE

Key findings include:

-          Since the start of the crisis in 2008, almost a million (826,000) extra women have moved into types of work that are typically low paid and insecure. Since 2008, female under-employment has nearly doubled (to 789,000) and an additional 371,000 women have moved into self-employment, which is typically very low paid. 1 in 8 low paid women now describe themselves as on a zero hours contract.

-          The increasing levels of women in low paid work, along with the declining value of low pay, is contributing to the widening inequality gap between women and men. Last year the gender pay gap increased for the first time in five years and now stands at 19.1 per cent for all employees

-          Low paid women are feeling the cost of living crisis sharply:  nearly 1 in 2 say they feel worse off now than five years ago; nearly 1 in 10 have obtained a loan from a pay day lender in the last twelve months; nearly 1 in 12 low paid women with children have obtained food from a food bank in the past twelve months

-          High levels of low paid women are working significantly below their skill or qualification level: 22 per cent of those on low pay are educated to degree level and 36.8 per cent describe themselves as ‘overqualified and over-skilled’ for their current job

 Commenting on these findings, Dr Eva Neitzert, Deputy CEO at the Fawcett Society – said:
 “The evidence is clear: after five years of decline, the UK economy is back on the upswing. Employment is up, unemployment is down and GDP is improving. However, as our research shows, low paid women are being firmly shut out of the recovery.

“The numbers of women in low paid, insecure work are still alarmingly high. Since the crisis in 2008 we have seen a nearly two-fold increase in the numbers of women working in insecure, part-time and temporary jobs where they would prefer to be in secure, full-time roles. In addition, 371,000 more women have moved into self-employment – a form of work which is typically very low paid and where women earn an average of 40 per cent less than men. We have also seen a sharp rise in the numbers of women on controversial zero hours contracts -  1 in 8 low paid women now describe themselves as being on a zero hours contract, the majority through necessity rather than choice. Overall, since 2008 almost a million extra women have moved into types of work that are typically low paid and insecure.

“We are concerned that at a time when the numbers of women on low pay are increasing, the value of their pay is declining in real terms, meaning they are struggling more than ever to makes ends meet. 1 in 2 low paid women told us that they felt worse off than five years ago. Even the planned increase to the national minimum wage this October will only increase the value of the wage to 2005 levels in real terms. It is clear that work is not providing a sufficient route out of poverty for low paid women: almost half are being forced to rely on benefits to top up inadequate wages, 1 in 10 are accessing pernicious pay day loans and 1 in 12 low paid women with children are having to resort to food banks.

“Our research also reveals that many low paid women are working substantially below their qualification and skill levels. Over a third consider themselves over-qualified for the job they are doing and shockingly, over 1 in 5 of those working below £7.44 per hour are educated to degree level. This is not only bad for individual women, it’s hugely damaging to the economy at large with talent simply going to waste.

“Whilst the economy moves into recovery it’s clear that that low paid women are not benefitting and, in many respects, are seeing their position deteriorate. In turn, this is contributing to the widening inequality gap between women and men. Last year we saw the gender pay gap, one of the key indicators of equality between women and men, increase for the first time in five years. On average, women now take home only 81p for every £1 a man earns. After years of slow but steady progress, this is a damming indictment of the government’s record when it comes to women’s standing in the economy.

“Overall, 1 in 4 of all female employees in the UK is in low paid work, compared with around 1 in 7 men. This equates to around 3 million female workers. From cleaners, dinner ladies and care assistants to supermarket workers and admin assistants, these women undertake crucial work that helps to hold the fabric of society together. But rather than benefitting from the current growth we are seeing in the UK, it is clear that the situation for these women is actually declining.

“All the major parties have talked about how vital it is that the skills and abilities of women are fully utilised in the emerging recovery, and of the need to tackle the on going inequality gap between women and men. In order to prove that they are serious about this, and that when they refer to ‘women’ they mean all women, there are a range of firm commitments we would like to see the parties include in their 2015 election manifestos.

“We urgently need to tackle the unacceptably low wages paid to women by substantially increasing the value of national minimum wage. Government should also take the lead in supporting the take-up of the Living Wage by encouraging local councils to adopt it and through instating it across Whitehall.

“At the same time, more must be done to increase the availability of quality, part-time and flexible roles –again, government should lead the way by ensuring that all roles in the public sector are advertised on a flexible basis as routine.

“Last month we warmly welcomed the announcement by the Liberal Democrat party that they will be including a commitment in their manifesto to enact section 78 of the Equality Act which requires big businesses to publish information on their gender pay gaps. This is a long-standing Fawcett demand, and will help lift the lid on unequal pay for at least 1,750,000 employees in the UK. We would now like to see all the other major parties match this commitment and show that they too are serious about addressing the scandal of the widening gender pay gap.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“It’s great that more women are in employment but for too many working life just means a different kind of poverty and insecurity.The alarming shift in the UK’s job market towards low-pay and casualised contracts is hitting women hardest and risks turning the clock back on decades of progress towards equal pay.Unless more is done to tackle poverty wages and job insecurity women in particular will be excluded from Britain’s economic recovery.”

Ireland: Growing consensus that 2013 Abortion Act fails to aid women enduring crisis pregnancies Print E-mail

 Tuesday August 19, 2014

The case for repealing the Eighth Amendment

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, enacted following the death of Savita Halappanavar, was meant to bring to an end the agonising about Ireland’s abortion regime and the long failure to legislate for the existing constitutional provision. The news that a vulnerable and suicidal young rape victim was denied an abortion in a timely way and ended up having a Caesarean section to deliver her baby prematurely shows that it has signally failed to do so.

The facts of the case, as we know them, are horrific. The young woman came to Ireland following a traumatic rape in her own country, resulting in pregnancy. She immediately told certain statutory authorities (though apparently not the HSE) she wanted an abortion. She was not directed to the appropriate medical services. Her circumstances were such that she could not travel abroad for an abortion, so she was forced to continue with the pregnancy against her will, as evidenced by the fact that she went on hunger and thirst strike. When she eventually obtained medical help she was found by the panel of experts to be suicidal, but they considered it was too late for an abortion and medical intervention, also against her will, became necessary to save her life and that of the child.

The Act is silent on the gestational stage at which an abortion may take place to save the life of the mother. It is also unclear about who is obliged to pass on to the appropriate medical authorities the clearly-expressed wish of a suicidal woman to have an abortion, particularly if she is vulnerable and has communication difficulties, as this woman had due to not being able to speak English. Its restrictions clearly bear most heavily on the most vulnerable.

But even if these matters are clarified by further legislation, the Act falls short of a growing consensus that the abortion regime defined by the Eighth Amendment and the subsequent Supreme Court suicide ruling does not meet the needs of women in crisis pregnancies. The Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, along with a number of politicians, has urged a further referendum to remove confusion on the issue in the context of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities.

The latest case demonstrates pregnancy as a result of rape does indeed lead some victims to consider suicide. Many more rape victims will wish to terminate the pregnancy, though they may not threaten suicide or embark on suicidal behaviour, and should not have to. A few courageous women have made the case for the right to have their pregnancies terminated where there was no chance of the foetus surviving outside the womb. The case for including among the referendums planned for next year one to repeal the Eighth Amendment in order to allow for abortion in the case of rape and foetal abnormality is now compelling.
 Tuesday August 19, 2014

State needs to review the 2013 Abortion Act

Last year's abortion legislation was introduced in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar

THE full facts of the case of a young asylum seeker refused an abortion are yet to emerge. But it is already apparent that the substantive and procedural rights afforded to women under the new Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act may not be fully accessible.

The case is the first example of suicide being cited as a grounds for the termination of a pregnancy under the new abortion laws whose own birth was dominated by disputes over the inclusion of the suicide clause to bring Ireland's law into line with the 1992 X Case.

If the teenage rape victim requested a termination as far back as April, it begs questions as to why she was not referred to a GP or relevant health professional to ascertain if she was suitable for assessment under the act.

It is vital that we fill the gaps in the missing 12 weeks between the initial discovery of her pregnancy and her formal request - at some 22 weeks' gestation - for a termination on suicide grounds.

The Health Services Executive (HSE) is responsible for the provision of medical services for all asylum seekers, including unaccompanied and "aged out" minors who have reached the age of majority but are deemed to be vulnerable.

The agency has commenced an inquiry into the young woman's case.

But the inquiry should not look at the facts from a medical perspective alone. The woman had her baby delivered at 25 weeks by caesarean section after she was refused a termination by an expert panel and went on hunger strike.

The Department of Justice has overall responsibility for the operation of our asylum system, including the much-maligned system of direct provision.

That department's role and operations must also be scrutinised as part of any credible review, as the State could be subject to litigation over any perceived delays and failure to implement its own laws.

The Government should therefore move to set up an independent, multi-departmental inquiry and review the act.

The plight of the girl serves as an indictment not just of the efficacy of the 2013 Act but also of the system of direct provision which tries but cannot meet the complex health - including mental health - needs of asylum seekers.

Time to bring student 'digs' back in vogue

For many, the idea of rooming with a family in student “digs” will conjure up visions of penny-pinching landlord Rigsby and his unrequited pursuit of Ms Jones in the classic comedy Rising Damp, or of frayed carpets and overbearing landladies and landlords.

There’s no reason that should be the case. If householders and students respect each others’ boundaries, they have a huge amount to offer one another.

The same factors driving homelessness and a shortage of family homes mean that in Dublin in particular the shortage of student accommodation is particularly acute this year.

At the same time, a generation of homeowners is struggling with big mortgages taken out during the boom – some of whom at least have spare rooms that could be used to help service those loans. Uniquely, up to €10,000 a year can be earned tax free from renting out a room. For first-year students in particular, “digs” can provide affordable housing and help ease the transition to living away from home. It’s an idea whose time has come back.

 Monday August 18, 2014

Once again, vulnerable young women pay the price for political cowardice

A candlelight vigil to mark the first anniversary of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway last year

A young woman, a teenager for argument's sake, is violently raped.

The trauma of that sexual violence and other complex factors in her life means that she has suicidal intent and does not want to proceed with the pregnancy. A sole psychiatrist forms the view that her life is at risk from suicide and believes that the ending of the pregnancy is the only way to save her life.

Had this hypothetical girl gone to the High Court before January, she would - under the 1992 X case - have been allowed a termination under Irish law.

This was the type of tragic scenario that last year's Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was designed to accommodate, to prevent women from throwing themselves at the mercy of the courts where they had met the test set out in X.

And yet, in the first known test of our new abortion laws, a young rape victim was refused a termination despite the fact that an expert panel who assessed her not just determined - but certified - that there was a risk to her life from suicide.

However, her request was refused as it was deemed that early delivery by caesarean section was the best option in the circumstances.

The young woman, who could not travel overseas for a termination because of her legal status, went on hunger strike on foot of her belief that her request for an abortion was refused.

This prompted the Health Service Executive (HSE) to seek a court order allowing it to forcibly hydrate her. The order was granted but not relied upon because the young woman gave birth to her baby after it was delivered prematurely by caesarean section - at between 24 and 26 weeks gestation.

The available facts surrounding this case, hampered in part by reporting restrictions, are still too sparse to warrant full interrogation.

But they are laid sufficiently bare to expose the endemic weaknesses at the heart of the 2013 law.

It was a 30-year long, Sisyphean task to get the law, whose passage was accelerated by the shocking 2012 death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, across the line.

The 2013 abortion act was a triumph for political cowardice and legislative minimalism. Afraid to rock the boat any further, politicians opted for the least possible reform. They ignored calls to consider the plight of expectant women with fatal foetal abnormalities whose pregnancies are not viable.

They expressly failed to provide for victims of rape and incest. They could not countenance confronting, in law, complex issues of viability thresholds, term limits and late term abortions, as other countries have done. They did not do so in part because the practical effect of the X case is that there are no upper time limits where a termination is required to save a woman's life, that risk including suicide.

Regardless of where you stand on the perennially divisive issue of abortion, clarity - real legislative clarity - is required for all. Having refused to deal with issues such as viability in legislation, the Government kicked the issue to touch in its draft guidelines which contemplate "early delivery" but place such deliveries outside the scope of the act. The guidelines state - in a footnote, of all places - that if the unborn has reached viability and the best course of action is deemed to be an early induction or caesarean section, this medical procedure would not fall under the act.

The rationale for taking early deliveries outside the act is that they are not medical procedures during which, or as a result of which, an unborn human life is ended.

Has this footnote brought in the notion of a viability threshold through the back door, just as the 1983 right-to-life referendum was intended to block abortion through the back door by judicial activism?

If there is an alternative to abortion through early delivery, should this have been specified in the act rather than buried deep in the small print of the guidelines?

There are other complex issues raised not just by this case but which may not have been sufficiently addressed in the law.

On the issue of consent, the guidelines state that, as per current medical practice, "it will always be a matter for the patient to decide if she wishes to proceed with a medical procedure under this act".

What if she is refused? What if she cannot proceed with her desired medical procedure? What is the status of her consent, competencies, autonomy and bodily integrity if she opts to go on hunger strike or end her life?

How real and valid is her consent if she "agrees" to an early delivery when experiencing great distress? How effective is our limited law if vulnerable women cannot access it in a timely manner?

When the 2013 act was passed, politicians breathed a sigh of relief that they had done what the Supreme Court has excoriated them since 1992 for failing to do: legislate.

But an ambiguous, ineffective law is no law at all.

Once again, it is vulnerable young women who do not have the safety valve of travel or other means, who are paying the price for our political cowardice. And with international pressure still bearing down on Ireland, this is one socio-political nightmare that shows no sign of ending.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Abortion law offers escape to rich and a dead end to poor

By Colette Browne

 (Picture posed.Thinkstock Images)

Middle-aged and elderly voters are responsible for Ireland's restrictive abortion law - it's time a new generation had a say.

Since Ireland first inserted the 1983 amendment into the Constitution, equating a woman's right to life with that of a foetus, voters have had a number of opportunities to make the law more restrictive. We have never had an opportunity to liberalise it.

The choice, if you could call it that, has only ever veered from endorsing an absolute abortion ban to allowing it in very limited circumstances to save a woman's life.

Consequently, nobody who can actually bear children in Ireland today - nobody under the age of 49 - has had any real say over our draconian abortion regime.

Instead, women's reproductive choices have been controlled, for more than 30 years, by Catholic dogma reincarnated as law.

This has remained the case despite the fact that Ireland in the 21st Century bears no resemblance to the theocratic state that first introduced an abortion ban all those years ago - a state in which divorce was illegal and homosexual acts were outlawed.

Still, while those religious artefacts in the Constitution were gradually excised over time, our abortion law has remained immutable, a perfectly preserved relic.

It's time for that to change.

The law, as it's currently constituted, is not equitable and it's not fair.

It offers an escape route to the rich and a dead end to the poor.

Its defenders say that the 8th Amendment stopped the introduction of abortion on demand into Ireland.

What they refuse to recognise is that we have de facto abortion on demand - for everyone who can afford it.

The others, without the money or the capacity to travel, are served up as sacrificial victims to the State's sanctimonious moralising.

Our perverse obsession with women's wombs is such that the law seems incapable of treating even a suicidal teenage rape victim with a modicum of empathy.

The details of the case of the young asylum seeker, suicidal at the thought of giving birth to her rapist's baby, which came to light this week are distressing.

It is an indictment of a heartless law whose only function is the criminalisation and stigmatisation of vulnerable women by a pious State too craven to face up to its own responsibilities to 50pc of its citizens.

But your reaction should not just be one of pity, you should be angry too - angry that, 22 years after the X Case, it can happen again.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has cautioned against using the case as "a political cause".

But how can it be anything other than political when the State effectively asserts ownership rights over women's bodies once they become pregnant?

How could it be anything other than political when the only way to ensure that a similar tragedy is not repeated is to change the law and accept that the cost of maintaining the fiction of an abortion-free Ireland is too high?

The fact is that this woman, who suffered so terribly after she fled to this country seeking asylum, could yet be deported.

And, if she had opted to have the child willingly, instead of being coerced into a C-Section, the likelihood is that the child would be deported with her.

And therein lies the problem - Ireland, for all of its pro-life rhetoric and constitutional protection for the unborn, doesn't care much what happens to children once they are born.

The State's illusory veneer of moral rectitude on this issue has crumbled in dust after 30 years.

If we really cared about women, we would demand that the law treated them with equanimity and empathy.

It's time that those whose bodies the State seeks to police finally had a say in their treatment. We need a referendum.
Wednesday 20 August 2014

Psychiatrist says abortion law can be improved by amendment

HSE to publish terms of reference for review into care of woman who sought termination

The terms of reference for the report into the treatment of the woman who sought an abortion are to be published today.

Consultant psychiatrist and former TD Dr Moosajee Bhamjee has warned that another controversial abortion case could happen at any time and has called on the Government to amend the existing legislation.

He said a fresh referendum on abortion was not a good idea. Dr Bhamjee works in private practice in Ennis and Galway having retired from the HSE in 2011.

He served one term as a Labour deputy for Clare in the 1990s.

“This could happen again next month, next week,” he said, referring to the case of the young woman who was refused an abortion and later had her pregnancy delivered by Caesarian section.

He said the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act could be improved through amendments.                                                                                                                 

“I think the legislation could be amended without going to a referendum. Once we go to a referendum you get so many multiple views that you end up with a mess,” he said.

“The Government should look at amending the legislation rather than looking at going to a referendum. It causes too much controversy and conflict within society.”

Earlier Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he did not believe there was an appetite for a further referendum to remove the 8th amendment to the Constitution in relation to abortion.

Concerns for the psychological welfare of the young woman at the centre of the latest abortion controversy were brought to the HSE at the end of May, two months earlier than has been reported, it is understood.

The young woman, who was 16 weeks pregnant at the time, attempted to take her own life at that point, she has said.

Her pregnancy was delivered by Caesarean section earlier this month, at 25 weeks gestation. She was suicidal and says she had been refused a termination under the new abortion legislation.

Speaking today, the Minister said he agreed with Minister for Health Leo Varadkar’s direction to the HSE to seek a full report “to assemble all of the facts” in relation to the particular case.

He said he understood the HSE would have a report “sometime in September”.

The terms of reference for the review are expected to be published today.

“I believe time to be of the essence here. It’s absolutely essential that we have this report on the fact as quickly as possible. I see no reason why we can’t have this in a couple of weeks and I do believe it’s essential that the cabinet is fully briefed by Minister [for Health Leo] Varadkar in September.”

Mr Flanagan said there seemed to be “a conflict as to the engagement of members of the medical profession with the level of treatment” and with the timelines in the case.

“I believe before we do anything it’s important that the facts be assembled and the facts be disclosed.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme, Mr Flanagan was asked about the possibility that the report might suggest that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act should be revisited in some way.

“Well, there is a suggestion that the Act isn’t working. However, I think before we can be conclusive on that or before we can form an opinion on that, we need to be apprised fully of the facts and the circumstances,” he said.

“ . . . I think it’s important that the review mechanism under the Act be allowed take place if the current case means bringing that forward a few months then so be it.”

On the question of a referendum to remove the 8th amendment provision on abortion, he said: “There doesn’t appear to be an appetite for a further referendum. However, it’s important that the Government does address the issue in the context of the facts of this particularly harrowing case, so early into the operation of the legislation.”

He was “not satisfied” that deleting the provision was the way forward “because the consequences of that will have to be weighed up in a way that perhaps they haven’t been to date”.

“So I’m not going down the referendum road. What I am anxious to do is that we see the operation of this Act, which is only a year in operation -in fact it’s much less than a year in operation - that we have a look at the workings of the Act in the context of what has happened in recent months which is a matter of some concern, I might add.”

The young woman in the case says she was pregnant as a result of rape before she came to the country and first asked for an abortion when she was eight weeks and four days pregnant, at the beginning of April. She was referred to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) for counselling.

When told that the cost of travelling for an abortion could be as high as €1,500 at an IFPA counselling session in late May, she said she would rather die than continue with the pregnancy. The Irish Times understands she was then referred to a HSE staff member.

The revelation raises new questions about the HSE’s role in her care and why she was not referred at this stage to a GP, who could then refer her on to a psychiatrist under the terms of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. The Act did not come into play in her case until July, when she attended a GP and was then referred to a psychiatrist.

A panel of two psychiatrists and one obstetrician was convened and it was agreed that she was suicidal and that the pregnancy should be ended. The care she received is now to be reviewed by the HSE.

The care she received from the time she found out she was pregnant in early April until the time she was delivered this month will be investigated.

Both the IFPA and the Department of Justice say they will co-operate fully with the investigation.

The HSE, when asked yesterday about the case being brought to its attention in May, reiterated that its director general had requested a report be completed for him that seeks to establish the full facts surrounding the case. “We will not be in a position to comment until these facts are established,” a spokeswoman said

The IFPA will not comment on the young woman’s case, citing client confidentiality. However, its chief executive, Niall Behan, said the association always did “all we possibly can” to assist women in crisis pregnancy.
 Tuesday 19 August 2014

160,000 reasons to take action on abortion

‘Constitu  tional provisions on abortion are just the detritus of the ecstatic picnic of theocracy’s final fling’

 “There will be referendums next year, and one of them should be to remove abortion from the Constitution and put it where it should be – into the ordinary Irish reality where most of us live.”

By Fintan O'Toole

If you’re reading this on a train or a bus, have a look around you. There is every chance that you will see a woman who has had an abortion. It might be that sharply dressed middle-aged lady. It might be the sweet granny taking her grandkids to the zoo. It might be the student going over her lecture notes.

At least 160,000 Irish women have had abortions abroad since 1980. That’s close to one in 10 of the female population aged between 14 and 64. These women are our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, neighbours. Yet abortion is part of official discourse only when a new atrocity breaks the surface of a deep silence.

It takes some grotesque tormenting of a woman – such as the latest case in which a suicidal woman was forced by court order to continue a pregnancy that resulted from rape – for an everyday reality to be acknowledged.

That reality is plain: Irish women have abortions and Irish people are OK with it. They agree that women should be free to have abortions in England under a very wide set of criteria. In 1992, when there was a referendum on the right to travel outside the State to have an abortion, Youth Defence spelt out very clearly what this meant from an anti-abortion perspective: “The word ‘travel’ is being used by cowardly politicians and others as a cover-up for the violent and vicious killing of defenceless Irish babies by English doctors.” If you believe that abortion is murder, this was the truth. The Irish people voted for it nonetheless, by 62 per cent to 38 per cent. This made it abundantly clear that, for all the rhetoric and all the silences, most Irish people, even then, did not actually believe in banning abortion.

Regime does not reflect public opinion
Even in relation to abortions within Ireland, it is clear the current, punitively restrictive regime does not reflect public opinion. In an Irish Times poll in June 2013 81 per cent said abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or abuse, with just 10 per cent saying it should not. Asked whether abortion should be permitted if the foetus is not capable of surviving outside the womb, 83 per cent said it should, with 8 per cent saying it should not.

And yet, we somehow end up imposing in the most cruel way the views of a small rump of the population on abused and suicidal women. There’s a lot of talk about the tyranny of majorities but this is a clear case of the tyranny of a small minority. For all the lazy talk of abortion as a “divisive” issue, the truth is that the vast bulk of public opinion is on one side of the divide – the side that wants the law to allow women in awful circumstances to make their own choices.

The real division, in fact, is between most Irish people on the one side and the political and legal regime on the other. It exists because, when it comes to abortion, we are almost literally living in the past.

This whole mess goes back to a very specific moment in Irish history – the last stand of theocratic Catholicism. For a short period in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it seemed possible to the Catholic hierarchy and to militant lay Catholics that the old regime of church control of legislation on family, sexuality and reproduction could be preserved.

This was not primarily about abortion – contraception, divorce and homosexuality were much more pertinent questions at the time. But abortion was seen, correctly, as what the Christian right in the US would call a “wedge issue” – a cultural and emotional redoubt behind which conservatives could rally.

This attempted counter-revolution is the one and only reason why abortion is in the Constitution. And it wasn’t even a successful counter-revolution. It had some temporary success in galvanising conservative Ireland for a last stand. But it did absolutely nothing to stop abortions – there were 3,650 in 1982 before the anti-abortion amendment to the Constitution and 3,946 in 1984 after it.

And it failed in its larger goals of stopping reforms on contraception, homosexuality and (eventually) divorce. The constitutional provisions on abortion are just the tattered vestiges of an old disappointment, the beer cans and torn ponchos left on the sodden field the day after a festival of self-righteousness, the detritus of the ecstatic picnic of theocracy’s final fling.

Torturing women
It is one thing to torture women for a coherent principle, backed up by a deep moral consensus. (Not a good thing, of course, but at least a serious thing.) But it is outrageous to break the will of already vulnerable women on the rack of a long-discarded ideology.

There’s something sick in a system where the horrific reality of forced pregnancy matters less than the preservation of what amount to constitutional catchphrases with as much relevance to contemporary Ireland as Maoist slogans have in today’s China.

This tyranny of an old failure has to stop. There will be referendums next year, and one of them should be to remove abortion from the Constitution and put it where it should be – into the ordinary Irish reality where most of us live.

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