So far most, if not all, of our blog posts have been about happy things, or light-hearted observations of our experiences in the last year plus of living in Galway, Ireland. And for the most part, it has been an overwhelmingly positive and uplifting experience. But there are deeper observations to be made – I’m going to go out on a limb and make them.
As some of you readers may know, in late October of this year a young woman of Indian descent died needlessly at University Hospital Galway while miscarrying her pregnancy. She and her husband wanted that baby, had planned for it. Even through the extreme pain she was suffering she knew that she was not going to be able to carry to term. With a heart that was breaking in two she begged the doctors and nurses to help her by inducing labor. She was told “this is a Catholic country.” In other words, the church has so hamstrung the laws of this nation that they were not legally allowed to terminate the pregnancy as long as there was a fetal heartbeat. She suffered the pain and humiliation of this miscarriage for 5 days before the fetus’ heart stopped. By then she was septicemic. Before she passed away from the infection that ravaged her system, she did point out to the staff that she was neither Irish nor Catholic.
Ireland has been taken to task on many occasions by European Union rights groups for their draconian laws and generally Catholic stance on human rights, particularly in the cases of gay rights and of abortion. (Same-sex sexual activity has only been decriminalised since 1993.) The Irish Constitution was amended in 1983 to ban abortion constitutionally, backed strongly by Catholic influence. This fact amazes and stuns me. In 1984 a 15-year-old girl named Anne Lovett and her newborn son died alone and freezing after Anne gave birth in a church yard precisely because of the stifling attitude of her religious upbringing. In 1992 the Irish Supreme Court ruled in the X Case, which allowed for abortion in the case of risk to the mother’s life including risk of suicide. The problem with the ruling is it is in direct opposition to the Eighth Amendment, and worse, to the Offences Against the Persons Act of 1861 – yes, you read that right, a law written in the 19th Century which is still in effect today – which makes it illegal to use drugs or instruments to cause an abortion. The Irish Parliament has REFUSED to legislate on these issues for over 30 years now.
The Catholic church would have women believe that their lives are never at risk from pregnancy. The government sees no problem if women choose to travel to another country to obtain abortion services. Most private physicians will perform follow-up treatment for women who have done so. So no one seems to understand why Irish women are so angry about Savita’s death. The church has no intention of assisting women who can’t afford to travel, so they’re resorting to purchasing abortifacients over the internet – the import of which is also illegal. The utter hypocrisy of not allowing babies who are still-born or die upon birth without being baptised to be buried in consecrated graveyards doesn’t seem to faze the church at all.
I’m not a religious person, neither Claude nor I are, really. We have our individual views about it. He tends toward the Buddhist way of thinking, I tend toward the agnostic. No matter how you define it, we are definitely not advocates of the Catholic vision of the world.
At this point a number of EU rights groups are calling for sweeping change to these ancient laws. Ireland is out of step with all of Europe in this regard and does not, in my opinion, deserve to hold the EU Presidency next year until its laws come in line with the rest of the Union. The anti-choice groups are pulling out all the stops, pressuring their local politicians to not allow women the right to a safe, clean abortion in Ireland. Women are once again being held hostage to their gender by the Catholics.
The Irish people have some fairly archaic attitudes when it comes to being open with one another, talking about sexuality and differences, speaking of uncomfortable subjects and history. They use euphemisms to describe horrors of their history. They have a similar stiff-upper-lip style to the British. They call periods of anarchy in their history “the Troubles,” like it’s a touch of the flu or sluggish bowels. People die and they’re labeled as “the tragic.” It’s all so … very.