independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Carol Hunt: I am just collateral damage in Walsh's self-righteous crusade

Carol Hunt says the senator's Seanad contribution brought back powerful memories of her own "missed abortion"

'Oral porn" is how Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell described the contribution of Fianna Fail Senator for Wexford, Jim Walsh, to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill debate in the Seanad last week.

And yes, "porn" was the appropriate word to use in a debate about women's bodies that seemed to increasingly veer into the realms of the voyeuristic. However, out of all the insults casually thrown at the women of Ireland since this "debate" began, Senator Walsh's was the first one that made me weep.

I'll explain. Reluctantly, I must say, I read the transcript of what Walsh had said in the Seanad. I gagged. Then I started shaking. The overall feeling was of nausea and shock. Presumably, this is exactly the reaction Senator Walsh was looking for.

Later I heard his "speech" on RTE's morning Today show. It set off another fit of tears and some angry and emotional tweets to others who were listening. Apologies if I upset any of you. I was, myself, extremely upset. And I suspect thousands of women all over the country felt similarly.

The senator's speech was what you might call "colourful", and certainly intended to provoke. The anti-women sentiment contained within it was breathtaking, as was its casual cruelty. That it was delivered by a public representative in our Parliament House made it even more distressing.

Senator Walsh seems to think that he is an expert on what women think, and feel, and experience. He is certainly an expert on the horrors of what, deservedly it seems, will befall any woman who dares to have an abortion, no matter what the sad circumstances causing her to make that choice. He wallowed in descriptions of suicides, self-abuse, depression, relationship failure, alcohol and substance abuse. In graphic detail he described a second trimester abortion – or termination, whichever you wish to call it. This was when I started to shake.

In 1995, I had what is termed a "missed abortion". It's when the foetus dies inside you and an abortion is needed to remove it. It is a common procedure in Irish hospitals. Why? Because miscarriage – or abortion, to give it its proper name – is extremely common. In fact about 25 per cent of all pregnancies result in miscarriage. And, sadly, in many cases the women undergoing through this trauma don't receive the wonderful maternal care and attention that the opponents of this bill keep bragging about. Ireland does not offer top-notch maternal care to women.

Get a group of women together who have been through Irish maternity hospitals and by God the horror stories just keep stacking up. Particularly where miscarriages are involved.

I've heard stories of miscarrying women being put in wards with newborn babies; women sent home bleeding and in pain with a packet of paracetamol and a pat on the head; devastated couples blithely told, "Ah sure, you're young, you can try again." And yes, of course, there are many cases where women are wonderfully cared for by doctors and nurses who show great sensitivity, but so many medical staff just don't have the time – or the inclination.

My own case was particularly nasty and the memory of the unnecessary neglect lingers to this day. I usually dislike raking back through the hurt of it, but as Senator Walsh has made sure it is to the forefront of my mind, I will expand, in the hope that other women who have been in similar situations may feel some comfort in that they are not alone.

So, briefly; I was admitted to hospital with back pain just a few days after myself and my partner had announced we were expecting a child. We thought we were past the 12- week danger stage. Even when I was given a scan and told to return in a week, I still thought everything was well.

When I returned to have another scan the following week, the woman at the machine turned to the nurse beside me and said: "It's definitely gone. Bring her upstairs and get it out." Nothing was explained to me and I had to grab a passing nurse to ask what the hell was going on. Seemingly, there was no heartbeat. I was given a pessary to bring on a miscarriage and left alone for hours, bleeding and in pain, until they "remembered" that I was there.

The next day tragedy turned to farce as, instead of an ambulance back to the hospital where I was being treated for my back pain, a taxi was called. It detoured to collect a staff member from the hospital and her friend, and all their shopping, and delivered them home before getting me to my destination. Not even the creators of Father Ted could make this stuff up.

Many other women have had similar experiences, or worse. A friend – a single mum of two, unemployed, at the end of her tether – had an abortion in the UK. On her return she began to haemorrhage. She was told she was in "severe danger" but that "it served her right" and she was lucky they were going to treat her at all after what she had done. And we wonder why women are advised not to tell medical staff about any abortion history?

All over Ireland there are women who cry when they pass those disgusting photos of aborted babies that the so-called "pro-life" people love so much, because it brings back the horror of their own miscarriages and reluctant abortions. And, again, no woman in this country makes the decision to have an abortion lightly.

Senator Walsh surely doesn't understand this. Because if he did, would he deliberately inflict such casual cruelty upon all the women of Ireland who have suffered so?

You know, I think the answer must be yes. We're just collateral damage in his – and others' – self-righteous crusade. Ultimately, people who believe that they are morally justified in inflicting that level of pain and sorrow on others are not just "anti-choice" – they are "anti-women" and ultimately, they are, in their lack of human kindness, anti-life itself.

Irish Independent

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