Usually, when feminists talk about Twilight it’s not in a good way. But is there a favourable comparison between these films and modern Ireland?
***SPOILER ALERT*** In the latest instalment of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn: Part 1, Bella and Edward marry and go on honeymoon. Despite Jacob’s confidence that it won’t be a “real honeymoon”, they do have sex and Bella becomes pregnant. Unfortunately, the foetus is half human/half vampire, an unprecedented conception that nobody quite knows what to make of. Enter the superstitious Brazilian woman who feels Bella’s stomach and predicts ‘morte’, death. The foetus constitutes ‘a risk to the life of the pregnant woman’, making Bella a woman to whom the X case legislation (for which we are currently campaigning in Ireland) would apply.
Never mind, ‘Carlisle will get that thing out’, says Edward. He takes charge, accelerating their journey back to his doctor father. Meanwhile, Bella is soliciting support for the decision she has already made independently. Their family are shocked and appalled by her refusal to have an abortion. Rosalie, her new sister-in-law, is the only one to stand by Bella. Having long craved a child, we assume she is sympathetic to Bella’s feelings. Or is she hoping Bella will die, leaving her the baby? There’s no love lost between them after all.
As for the abortion debate, there isn’t much of it. Of course, the foetus isn’t necessarily human, but nevertheless, in the worst case scenario it would be 100% vampire. Then, it would presumably become part of Carlisle’s vegetarian vampire family. These vampires are seen to have a right to life equal to humans’ in the Twilight series. The abortion question in Breaking Dawn: part 1 is definitely understated, especially considering the film is based on a book written by a devout Mormon in a country with one of the most vocal and militant “pro-life” lobbies in the world.
While Twilight’s only hint of an abortion debate is disagreement over terminology, ‘baby’, ‘foetus’ or ‘thing’, the real conflict is between Bella and others who believe they know what’s best for her. Rosalie is supportive even if it’s for the wrong reasons, but everyone else continually tries to manipulate Bella into having an abortion. They ignore both her intuition, ‘everything’s going to be ok’ and her affirmation, ‘it’s not [Carlisle’s] decision, it’s not any of yours’.
The forces seeking to make the pregnant woman’s decision for her can be seen as patriarchal, from the over-protective husband Edward to the medically informed head of household, Carlisle. Does any of this sound familiar?
Of course, Bella’s situation is the opposite of that which Irish women seeking life-saving abortions find themselves in. Much as these women would like to receive life-saving medical treatment, patriarchal forces deny them this right. 20 years since the landmark Supreme Court ruling on the X case, governments led by 4 successive male Irish Taoisigh have failed to implement the legislation that would give Irish women the choice.
Bella’s physical deterioration throughout Breaking Dawn: part 1 is heart-breaking. She becomes taut and bone-thin, constantly winces and struggles to move around. She is dying. While Bella’s nearest and dearest are appalled that she won’t have an abortion, viewers support her because they instinctively feel that it’s her decision. She has the right to choose to die. Meanwhile, we are appalled that real Irish women in Bella’s situation have no choice but to die.
Thus, we reach the crux of the current Action on X campaign: women must be empowered to make their own choices. This does not mean, and this should be a comfort to anti-abortionists, that if your pregnancy is a danger to your life you have to have an abortion. In fact, as a feminist, I am as appalled by that idea as I am by the current lack of access to that option. It means rather that Action on X is fighting for your right to make your own choices regarding your own body. This is where the term ‘pro-choice’ comes from. As a move consistent with supporting Bella’s right to die in the process of child-bearing, we must support Irish women’s right to choose life. We must legislate for the X case as soon as possible.
To join the campaign for life-saving abortion in Ireland, check out the Action on X Facebook page: www.facebook.com/actiononx2012
On Tuesday February 21st, the Action on X alliance (of which the IFN is a member) held a public meeting in the Gresham Hotel, O'Connell Street entitled, 'Twenty Years After X: Where Are Our Rights?' Below is the text of a passionate and moving speech given on the night by journalist and reproductive rights activist Anthea McTeirnan.
Why must men always fight their battles for control on the bodies of women?
Why can’t women be trusted to make the right choices? Why shouldn’t women be trusted to make the right choices?
We are the experts. We make our choices with careful thought, with intelligent consideration. Sometimes with sadness, sometimes with relief - but always with responsibility.
Our bodies are just that. They are our bodies. It is not a cliché – it is a fact.
We have argued over women’s reproductive rights for so long. The putative womb of Irish women has been kicked around our courts and debating chambers as men in wigs have bickered over whether women in Ireland are fit or capable of making our own decisions.
We have not yet decided whether they are.
We have need of more experts, it seems.
This time the experts will look at implementing the X-Case judgment.
A woman is entitled to an abortion in this State if her life is threatened by her pregnancy, including the risk of suicide. This means that there must be clear medical and psychological criteria for allowing a woman to have an abortion.
And there must be a service provided. She must be able to have that abortion in Ireland. The European Court of Human Rights expects this matter sorted. Twenty years after the Supreme Court made their ruling In the X Case, the human rights of women in Ireland are still being violated.
No more pretending.
No more pretending that the 4,500 abortions that happen each year in England or Holland or Spain - or wherever - are not Irish abortions. They are. The sex was Irish sex, the money to pay for the termination is Irish money, the counselling – before and after – is Irish counselling.
A land of saints and scholars that spews its women like undesirables across the sea at a time of great individual challenge is not one to be proud of.
We now have the opportunity to make amends.
As we speak, men the world over are waging their wars over the bodies of women. The United States is dissolving into a chequerboard of pot luck, where unlucky women needing an abortion find themselves imprisoned in their home States in the land of the free. Women from Utah and Alabama and Indiana must turn to their sisters in New York to help them to travel and pay for a medical procedure with prohibitive restrictions in their home States.
Here in Ireland, we are used to men fighting their battles over our bodies. Yet our own situation has begun to look even more precarious. Across the Irish Sea conservatives like MP Nadine Dorries seek to erect barriers where none previously existed, adding layers of policing and control to the provision of terminations in Britain. This move failed, but we cannot be certain there won't be more attempts.
So we can continue to abandon Irish women to the whims of other jurisdictions or we can drag our post-colonial democracy kicking and screaming into a place where we no longer cede the vindication of the rights of half our population to another state.
We actually have the opportunity to develop a model of best practice. We have the chance to unhook ourselves from a colonial reliance on the land next door. We can do it better – we can have a system that supports the reproductive rights of women, a system that doesn’t seek to judge and moralise and restrict.
And it is not a far-fetched demand to make.
In England, progressive campaigners are demanding that the clause in the 1967 Abortion Act that “the opinion of two registered medical practitioners” must be sought to approve an abortion should be removed. We can provide a service in this country that is progressive, accessible and stripped of moral policing. We can move forward into a new millennium, where a woman seeking a termination is not “mad” or “bad”. There is no need to judge. The woman will decide, the woman must decide.
It is time to stop asking for small measures.
The recent Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 says 30 per cent of election candidates must be women by 2016. A strangely disproportionate choice given that 50 per cent of the population is female. In the words of one of our corporate saviours, providers of the Morning After Pill, Boots the chemist - “here come the girls”. We will increase our numbers in government, but it will mean nothing for our personal autonomy.
We have elected two fine women Presidents, heads of State who embodied the sovereignty of our nation, yet who, as women, never enjoyed sovereignty over their own bodies. An irony of presidential proportions.
Yes we can be presidents, yes we can take our 30 per cent allocation of places on the ballot paper. But as women we can never be equal in a State that embeds discrimination into its Constitution.
If we can afford the cost of a plane ticket and a termination in an English clinic, if we are strong enough during our chemo to walk up the steps of that Ryanair plane, if we can find someone to mind the kids, if we can get out of the country on our visa, if we can find out where, if we can find out how, we can get an abortion.
But that is too many ifs. If we need an abortion, if that is the choice we make, it is time for us to be able to do so here.
Reducing the women of this State to reproductive systems that need policing has to end.
Equality of opportunity will only come from equal rights and equal respect. The time has come for a mature democracy to take mature decisions. It is time to provide a service for medical terminations here.
Women are the expert group. Women can make the right choices. The time has come to trust us.
- Anthea McTeirnan - journalist and reproductive rights activist
Cross posting this article written by Alison Spillane from TheJournal.ie.
Twenty years on from the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the X case it is both astonishing and disheartening that so little progress has been made.
Over the past two decades, successive governments have failed to legislate for the Supreme Court judgment which established the right of women to access abortion when their lives are at risk, including the risk of suicide. In so doing, they have withheld a constitutional right from women in Ireland.
In the interim, we have seen a working group, a Cabinet committee, an Oireachtas committee and two referenda (1992 and 2002) in which the Irish people reaffirmed the Supreme Court ruling by refusing to remove suicide as legitimate grounds for abortion. More recently, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in ABC v Ireland that the rights of Applicant C had been violated under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights due to the State’s failure to legislate for the existing constitutional right to abortion. The Court noted there was a “striking discordance” between the theoretical right to a lawful abortion in Ireland on grounds of a relevant risk to a woman’s life and the reality of its practical implementation.
In January this year, after much can-kicking, Minister for Health James Reilly appointed a 14-member expert group to consider the ECHR judgment of December 2010. The expert group is charged with examining the options available to the government on how to implement this ruling.
In one sense, the establishment of the expert group is a step in the right direction but it is also a delaying tactic allowing government to push this issue to the margins for as long as possible. The reality is that an expert group is not necessary – the legislation required for X is in fact relatively straightforward (although we must be careful the law is not too rigid); the element requiring the most work is the medical guidelines needed to accompany it which should provide long overdue clarity for medical professionals who have been forced to censor themselves due to the severe penalties they could receive under archaic legislation.
Do we really need to legislate for X?
Often when the X Case comes up in the public domain the argument thrown up by the pro-life lobby is that, as things stand, doctors will always act to save the life of a woman even if this means unintentionally terminating her pregnancy, thus there is no need for legislation in this regard.
In reality, things are far more complex than that. As demonstrated by the ABC case where Applicant C – a woman in remission from cancer – found she could not access clear medical advice about the threat to her life if she continued with the pregnancy, or the damage that may have been done to the foetus as a results of tests she had undergone as part of her cancer treatment. Doctors stayed silent, left in a very unclear situation themselves, and were unwilling to advise this woman because of the legal implications surrounding abortion provision. Due to the negative climate around abortion in Ireland doctors are fearful and often unsure whether they can assist a woman, for example, in the provision of post-abortion care – abortion remains a criminal offence under 1861 legislation, carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
As a result of the failure to legislate for X, Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 are still in force meaning that women and medical professionals run a risk of serious criminal conviction. As the European Court of Human Rights observed, “The criminal provisions of the 1861 Act would constitute a significant chilling factor for both women and doctors in the medical consultation process, regardless of whether or not prosecutions have in fact been pursued under that Act”.
Why has the State not acted?
As part of its defence in the ABC case, the Irish government argued that restrictions on abortion in Ireland were based on “profound moral values deeply embedded in the fabric of society”. Recent opinion polls, however, beg to differ. The inaugural Irish Times/Behaviour & Attitudes Social Poll published in October 2007 found that 69% of women believe the government should legislate for abortion where the woman’s life is at risk. In 2010 a Marie Stopes/YouGov poll found that 87% of those questioned supported abortion where a pregnancy seriously endangers a woman’s life. It is clear that Irish attitudes to abortion have liberalised significantly over the past two decades.
Successive governments have displayed extreme political cowardice and conservatism in their refusal to introduce the relevant legislation. For the most part elected representatives have been afraid to touch the topic and in doing so they have greatly underestimated the electorate, as demonstrated by the opinion polls above. To be fair to backbench and opposition TDs, the pro-life lobby has traditionally been more visible and vocal on this issue (due in part to the rather staggering amount of resources it seems to have at its disposal) and elected representatives need to know that their constituents support them before they take a stand.
Unfortunately, this issue has for too long been monopolised by an extremely vocal and well-resourced minority who cry “Murder!” at the slightest mention of women’s reproductive rights. This approach stifles public debate and hinders reasonable discussion about a very complex topic. In advocating the right of women to access abortion when their lives are at risk, including the threat of suicide, I do not expect everyone to agree with me. But it is unjust for those who disagree to force that opinion on the rest of us, thereby preventing women from accessing life-saving treatment and doctors from providing proper and necessary care to patients. For twenty years this has been the status quo in Ireland, and the time to act is long overdue.
Alison Spillane is a political researcher and a co-ordinator of the Irish Feminist Network.
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