It was 1984. The country had just voted two-to-one to pass the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution to prohibit legal abortion, except when a woman’s life was in danger. No surprise, then, that Majella Moynihan was horribly belittled by the Garda hierarchy for getting pregnant by another garda recruit and effectively forced her to give her baby up for adoption.
Majella only avoided being sacked because the Catholic archbishop of Dublin feared it would lead to abortions in England. We were a country ruled by the Catholic Church. Except I don’t buy that reading at all. There are similarities between the mindset of some in the movement behind the Eighth and those who officially humiliated Majella Moynihan, in that both sought to control women.
However I believe the vast majority of those who voted for the Eighth Amendment voted to save little babies. You might think that is naive. I do too. I voted against the Eighth as a student. I voted for repeal.
Unlike many of those now discussing the vote for the Eighth, however, I remember the debate, including many I had with fellow students. Many of my liberal and even feminist peers voted for the Eighth because they believed every child had the right to life.
The truth is that if Majella Moynihan had quietly gone to England for an abortion she could have escaped all the horrors of being disciplined. A senior officer even told her later that if she had had an abortion she would have saved the force from being “discredited”.
She told Seán O’Rourke on radio last week that she considered that position ironic in a man who as a garda had “vowed to defend life and property”. She loved her baby passionately.
She was, she said, officially disciplined for having sex and for giving birth which she called “two of the most beautiful things in the world”. It is clear that for her, Baby David was the most beautiful baby in this beautiful world and what tears her apart to this day was that she was not supported to keep him.
That support is still not there. Children of lone parents are five times more likely to be poor than children in two-parent families and 99% of those receiving the one parent family payment are women.
Savage cuts made to that payment from 2012 on were ostensibly designed to “activate” these women, as if the lone mother of a young child could be seen as “inactive” except by someone with a sexist world-view and Victorian morals.
Lurking behind “activation” is the male fear of fertile female flesh, reproducing without permission and jeopardising our resources. That is exactly the fear which was behind the official humiliation of Majella Moynihan.
Lone parents are not a hot button subject however and the SPARK campaign generated no banner headlines when they reported last week that some lone parents will be nearly €400 worse off every month when the National Childcare Scheme fully kicks in.
It is Government policy that some of the poorest women and children in the State will be €100 a week worse off. And they are being told to swallow it because 95% of parents will be better off.
Ironically, because of complex impacts on several benefits, it is lone mothers working part-time or accessing training who have been most hit by the cuts to-date: their poverty rates doubled between 2013 and 2016.
October’s cuts take the hatchet to childcare allowances supporting lone parents on community employment schemes and ETB training courses. Existing beneficiaries are now being told they can keep their childcare provision until August of next year, if losing it makes them worse off. So the Government
acknowledges it is making poor women poorer and plans to go ahead anyway: From October no new entrants to community employment schemes or ETB courses will get the provision which is available now. How does the Repeal vote free these women to combine their responsibilities to themselves and to their children?
Our determination to believe that last year’s vote ushered in a new era of freedom for women in Ireland has made us hush up anyone who questions that theory.
It was from Breda O’Brien writing in The Irish Times last Saturday that I learned of the questions raised by Aontú TD, Peadar Tóibín, regarding the tragic case in Holles Street of a baby aborted earlier this year following a mistaken diagnosis of Edward’s syndrome.
The Government says an external review of the case is being commissioned, not an independent inquiry, which Tóibín says the family wants. He says that the abortion of this 15-week-old pregnancy was signed off on by only one medical practitioner, not two, as is required under our abortion law when it comes to fatal foetal abnormalities.
He says that the second medical practitioner who approved the abortion had not met the woman. He also claims that the option of continuing their pregnancy was never fully discussed with the parents, as is also required by the new law. Hopefully the external review will reveal the truth in this case.
What interests me is how little information there has been about this appalling story of misdiagnosis. I have had to rely to a large degree on a “pro-life” politician and a “pro-life” columnist for my information.
I was still more shocked that it was from the few UK Conservative “pro-lifers” I follow on Twitter that I learned about the truly appalling case of an intellectually disabled 20-something who was last week ordered to have her 22-week-old pregnancy aborted in the UK against her will. The woman is under the care of the NHS who sought the court order to have the baby aborted.
Judge Nathalie Lieven made the order saying: “I have to operate in (her) best interests, not on society’s views of termination.” The young woman may want the baby, she added, “in the same way she would like to have a nice doll”.
While it is not disputed that the woman, whose mental age is between six and nine, could not care for the baby on her own, her mother is reportedly a former midwife and has said she will care for her grand-child. Judge Lieven ruled that she would not be able to.
Her ruling was overturned on Monday and the pregnancy will go ahead. This story hit the New York Times but didn’t make it across the sea to the Irish mainstream media.
It’s just another story about a woman in a weak position being told what to do with her baby. This time, it’s an intellectually weak woman. In Majella Moynihan’s case the perceived weakness was economic.
Then as now, we report only what we want to hear and what confirms our sense of our own virtue. The past is not another country. It is this country.