Does the pope rule Ireland . . . and Wisconsin . . . and Texas . . . and . . . ?

ALG Taslima

Annie Laurie Gaylor and Taslima Nasrin at Atheist Ireland's Empowering Women Through Secularism Conference

By Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-President
Freedom From Religion Foundation

I had a bad case of déjà vu Monday, my first day back at work after a week in the Republic of Ireland, when I learned that abortion clinics in our state had been shut down as of that morning. We'd spent a lot of time learning about Ireland's draconian abortion ban. While we were away, Wisconsin's aggressively reactionary governor had signed an antiabortion bill Friday requiring that abortion physicians must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic. This effectively shut down two of Wisconsin's four abortion clinics.

Visiting Ireland was like stepping back in time, in good ways in terms of the agrarian landscape and culture, but also back to the bad old days when abortion was illegal. Now the clock was being turned back in Wisconsin?

My mother, who, at 86, remains volunteer administrator of the Women's Medical Fund charity helping to pay for abortion care, had patients with upcoming appointments at the shuttered Milwaukee clinic. We talked of directing them to a Chicago clinic, but knew for these indigent women this would be yet another hurdle, possibly insuperable.

National Planned Parenthood and Milwaukee's Affiliated Medical Services had filed a challenge as soon as the law was signed July 5. A federal judge whose bio described him as from a large Irish Catholic family, had set the hearing date for an injunction for July 15. We were all in shock. Nora Cusack, a Women's Medical Fund volunteer who stopped by the office yesterday morning, noted that even in Alabama, a judge had immediately issued a temporary restraining order against a similar law there.

Fortunately, by noon Monday the judge announced an emergency teleconference that afternoon to entertain a motion for a temporary restraining order. Shortly after 7 p.m. yesterday, the judge issued a strong 19-page ruling  granting the injunction, noting "there is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital-admitting privileges requirement."

Dan and I had just attended Atheist Ireland's Empowering Women through Secularism Conference June 29-30 in Dublin, where the Irish ban on abortion was front, left and center of secular and feminist concerns.

Just last week the Irish Parliament preliminarily voted in favor of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, referring to . . . controversially . . . saving the pregnant woman's life. We flew back Saturday so missed the huge antiabortion demonstration in Dublin attracting some 35,000 faith-heads who think it's OK if women die unnecessarily during pregnancy. (View footage taken by Atheist Ireland — the impressively loud "Shame on you" chanting was by some 1,000 counterpicketing pro-choice activists.)

Jane Donnelly, one of our kind Irish hosts who shared this footage with me, emailed: "We made a lot of noise. All the film we have is of the antiabortion marchers and it was the first time that these people had anyone directly challenge them on the streets. Some of them look a bit taken aback as they have simply never been challenged before in this manner. We were putting the shame on them for letting women die and for carrying those horrible posters. The march was organised by Youth Defence. Most of their funding comes from the U.S."

The bill is the weakest possible response to the shocking and brutal death late last October of Savita Halappanavar, a dentist from India 17 weeks into a wanted pregnancy that went wrong. Savita had the misfortune to be living in Galway, Ireland, when it was discovered she was starting to miscarry.

Under Amendment 8 of the Irish Constitution passed in 1983, fetal life is put on par with (read: above) the woman's right to life. The Galway hospital refused to abort her pregnancy until there was no detectable fetal heartbeat, even though her uterus was rupturing. Savita and her husband pleaded to end her doomed pregnancy. Blood poisoning had set in by the time the hospital intervened.

In 1992, in the landmark Irish "X" case, a 14-year-old girl who was pregnant from rape was barred by the government from traveling to the U.K. to have a legal abortion. She had threatened to kill herself if not permitted to end the pregnancy. A 4-1 ruling by the Irish Supreme Court was issued allowing her to travel to Britain for an abortion, establishing the right to abortion in Ireland if the pregnant woman's life is at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide. "X" ended up miscarrying in an English hospital. (And just last week outrageous news surfaced that a pregnant 11-year-old girl — a fifth grader — raped over the course of two years in Chile by her mother's partner, is being denied an abortion. This arch-conservative, arch-Catholic country admits no exception of its abortion ban.)

Contraception was only legalized in Ireland in 1985 — over the vociferous campaigning of the Catholic Church. Irish women have been in reproductive hell, thanks to Catholic doctrine. Today 4,000-5,000 Irish women routinely fly over to Britain or elsewhere — if they have the funds and connections. After the conference, Dan and I, along with Taslima Nasrin, other feminists and Atheist Ireland directors attended a standup comedy fundraiser for an organization that collects funds to aid women traveling for that very purpose. For now, the abortion rights campaign is focusing on saving the lives of women like Savita.

I had geared my opening remarks at the conference to the circumstances in Wisconsin in the early 1970s somewhat analogous to Ireland's ban. Witnessing the role of religion, particularly that of the Catholic Church, in legislating its dogma into our civil law, was instrumental for my mother and me in deciding to found the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I recalled the unforgettable time in 1971 when the Roman Catholic district attorney in Dane County, here in Madison, Wis., illegally raided Wisconsin's first lawfully open abortion clinic. The sheriffs forced their way into the clinic, absconding with the records of 300 pending appointments — as well as taking into custody the 17-year-old patient whose feet were in stirrups when they burst into an examining room. At 15, I was part of the huge distressed crowd that swelled into our City-County Building to protest this tyrannical act more akin to a police state than a democratic republic. I carried a placard asking, "Does the Pope Rule Wisconsin?"

My mother was called in by clinic employees to help during the crisis. Crying women were arriving at the closed clinic after driving all night with nowhere to go. It was chaos. My mother learned a few weeks later from a social worker that a desperate rural 17-year-old who'd had an appointment self-aborted with a coathanger and died. My mother collected funds to help some of these women fly to New York state, where abortion was legal. Eventually this travel fund became the Women's Medical Fund, an all-volunteer charity that has since helped more than 20,000 girls and women without means exercise their right to choose abortion. (Contribute to this pure charity, which is tax-exempt, by sending your check to: Women's Medical Fund, P.O. Box 248, Madison WI 53701.)

Assaults at the state level on abortion rights continue, with 43 restrictions adopted this year to date, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks (the few abortions at this point are limited to extreme cases). Yes, it should die in the Senate and would be vetoed in any case by Obama, but what a commentary that the House could command such a vote. Challenges are ongoing of bans at six and 12 weeks in North Dakota and Arkansas, respectively. Texas, despite Rep. Wendy Davis' heroic filibustering, is hell-bent on passing its own version of Wisconsin's law that would shut down nearly every clinic in that state. It's chilling to see the anti-choice camp now turn its sights on contraception. More than 50 lawsuits have been filed by the Catholic Church and fundamentalist groups challenging Obama's contraceptive mandate.

Monday's scare here in Wisconsin is a wake-up call showing how close we are to losing reproductive rights in the United States under the relentless campaigning of the religious lobbies and their "tea party" advocates.

Click here to watch the speeches and panels at the Empowering Women through Secularism.

Comments

#115 - Elaine said on July 10, 2013
I am siting here trying not to cry after reading this eloquent article. I am almost 30 years past reproductive age, but I still vividly remember being 18 years old,1500+ miles from home, pregnant, and hearing the young man, who had said he loved me, tell me he couldn't (wouldn't) marry me. Period.

I spent evenings after rehearsals wandering around Sioux City, looking for a tall building I could jump off of because it was 1958, and ALL abortions were illegal everywhere in the US. (I spent mornings before rehearsals throwing up.) There weren't any buildings tall enough in Sioux City in those days.

I finally had to tell our show director what was wrong, and she told the manager, and somebody found a genuine MD in a small town who did D&C procedures in his office at night. No questions asked. Just bring cash. So I did...scared nearly to death.

I survived, obviously, but I have always been angry, and puzzled, that so many loud-mouthed people believe that a bundle of cells without even a hint of a nervous system is more "sacred" than a living, breathing, THINKING woman. Maybe it's the thinking part that scares them. I know they ARE afraid of something; one of my favorite authors has often written that "Anger/rage is always...always (in Italics)...fear in drag." He's right.

My anger stems from the fear that a 75% Catholic Supreme Court will be persuaded to allow one, or more, of these insanely restrictive laws to stand. What these laws are really saying is that women are too weak to think for ourselves; that we need a keeper...a male...to keep us on the "right" path. A path that they create for their own purposes.

I am so upset that the citizens of Texas, Wisconsin, Alabama, and other states are willing to go along with this deadly idiocy. I mean SOME women must have voted for these extremists. WHY? What is the matter with them? I can understand some men feeling, as the Monty Python song says, that "Every Sperm is Sacred," but WOMEN?

I'm sorry. I'm ranting. but this issue is so personal, and I don't even have a spare dollar to send to Ms. Gaylor's charity at the moment. Living on Social Security is living on the edge of bankruptcy, but I wouldn't be here to rant if it weren't for that elderly MD in Iowa back in the Dark Ages of the 1950s.

Anne Nicol Gaylor, thank you SO much for everything you do!
#116 - Eleanor said on July 11, 2013
Elaine, Thank you for sharing your touching story. No American woman should have to suffer as you did ever again. On your behalf, I am making a donation of $25 to the Women's Medical Fund.
#117 - Eleanor said on July 11, 2013
Elaine, Thank you for sharing your touching story. No American woman should have to suffer as you did ever again. On your behalf, I am making a donation of $25 to the Women's Medical Fund.
#118 - Eleanor said on July 11, 2013
Elaine, Thank you for sharing your touching story. No American woman should have to suffer as you did ever again. On your behalf, I am making a donation of $25 to the Women's Medical Fund.
#119 - Eleanor said on July 11, 2013
Sorry to have posted my comment so many times, but it did not show up on my PC for a while.
#121 - Dianne said on July 29, 2013
Thank you for this very moving post, and Elaine, for your story. I'm 60 years old, so I'm of the generation which remembers what it was like before Roe, when the leading cause of death among women of childbearing age was complications from septic abortions. In 1972 I worked in a doctors' office right down the block from a hospital. One of my jobs was moving files from the "active" to the "deceased" sections. I looked at why these people had died, and over and over it was septic abortions. This was in California, which had one of the most "liberal" abortion laws in the country, and in a college town, so many of the dead women were my age--college students. After January 1973, the numbers of women dying dropped to zero within weeks. I never want my nieces or other young women to go through this again.
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