A belated link to a post by Máiréad Enright over at Inherently Human about symphysiotomy, a surgical procedure which breaks bones in the pelvic region to allow vaginal delivery:
“Symphysiotomy was thought to permanently enlarge the pelvis, and therefore, when carried out in a first pregnancy, it might remove the necessity for a woman with ‘disproportion’ to face repeated CS in future pregnancies. This was a particular problem for Catholic doctors. Contraception was practised in most developed countries, making repeat problem pregnancies less common, and non-Catholic doctors advised sterilisation after three CS. Irish Catholic doctors were unable or unwilling to do this. They were aware of criticism by colleagues who believed that Catholic religious structures disadvantaged patients. ” (from Jacqueline Morrissey, ‘The murder of infants? Symphysiotomy in Ireland, 1944-66″ (2012) 20(5) History Ireland, quoted in The Journal November 2012 “A history of symphysiotomy: the impact of Catholic ethics on Irish medicine”, here)
Many women who were given the procedure testify that they were not properly informed, did not consent and were not even told about the procedure during recovery. This procedure was not performed in any other country where there was the capacity to provide safe C-sections.
The procedure was used until the 1980’s. Since then, there have been court cases, a Report, an Independent Review, and now the group Survivors of Symphysiotomy have asked the UN Committee Against Torture to look into the Irish experience (see the SOS report here). Máiréad’s post examines, in some fascinating detail, the Irish state responses to the UN Human Rights Committee [UNHRC]in a recent ICCPR review, with particular reference to the proposal for redress of women who received this surgery.
Her conclusion is both brutally clear and nuanced in its analysis:
At Geneva, the state delegation seemed poorly prepared to discuss institutional gender-based violence. The common sense that Ireland is ‘facing up to its past’ is self-satisfied nonsense. True, the papers are happy to print stories of oppression and violence suffered in an Ireland neatly consigned to some long ago time. But it has proven too easy to swat away public scrutiny of the administrative systems which the state has devised for the management of the Magdalene women, the subjects of the Ryan report, the children abused in national schools, the women subjected to symphysiotomy, and, soon, the women and children circulated through and confined in the Mother and Baby Homes. Those systems are structured by a strange intertwining of paternalism and penny-pinching. In ‘the past’, the Irish state was frankly committed to containing, disciplining and directing the conduct of those considered unfit to think for themselves, and at the lowest possible cost. Today’s redress policy is a softer, but no less threatening, echo of that grim political economy.via Ireland, Symphysiotomy and the UNHRC | Inherently Human
Grim is the word. Those of you following the current debates over abortion law and practice in Ireland will find this post a critically important piece of context, both historical and contemporary.
Once you have read the post described above, read another more recent post by Máiréad, over at Critical Legal Thinking. This one describes what is known and not known about a recent case dealt with under Ireland’s abortion laws. READ IT, please, if you have any interest in these issues.
Once you have done that you will know much more about the current state of the law in Ireland, you might have new insights into the state of the law in your jurisdiction, and you will probably want to know more about Máiréad Enright. So,
- follow her on twitter@MaireadEnright
- learn about what she does at Kent Law School as a lecturer, here
- anticipate what is sure to be a no holds barred Irish Feminist Judgments project here and here
- virtually attend an Economic and Social Research Council seminar series she co-organizes – The Public Life of Private Law – here (because there is audio of so many things you missed)
- read some of her work on SSRN here, such as Girl Interrupted: Citizenship and the Irish Hijab Debate (2011) 20 Social and Legal Studies 463,
- and find more in the blogosphere by looking here (or, of course, any search engine, since she’s probably writing something right now)
Don’t waste time feeling inadequate either.