Constitution must reflect reality of life for women
The tragedy of Savita Halappanavar has revived the abortion debate and drawn the attention of a whole new generation of women to what the Constitution actually says about them and their bodies.
Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter demonstrated how some women are not equal to men under the Constitution in a frank and thoughtful speech to the Dáil this week.
“It can truly be said that the right of pregnant women to have their health protected is, under our constitutional framework, a qualified right . . . This is a republic in which we proclaim the equality of all citizens but it is a reality that some citizens are more equal than others,” he said. The Minister noted there was no impediment to men seeking and obtaining any required medical intervention to protect not only their lives but also their health and quality of life.
The curious should look beyond the contentious article 40, which protects the right to life of the unborn with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother. The article that follows contains an antiquated clause on mothers’ “duties in the home” and demonstrates how the Constitution lets women down on a wider scale.
Although rights enshrined for all citizens naturally apply to women, the text appears to view women primarily as mothers. Men cannot carry or give birth to children, of course, and the Constitution contains no references to fathers (save for a mention in the preamble of ancestral fathers who were sustained “through centuries of trial” by Jesus Christ).
The document effectively pays a tender tribute to the much-loved “Irish mammy” when it says “the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”.
But it goes on to pledge that the State “shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”.
Tell that to the young “negative equity” couples dropping their child at a creche at some ungodly hour of the morning as they head to work. The text fails to reflect modern life for many. Not only are lots of mothers “obliged by economic necessity” to spend long periods working outside their homes, with associated guilt in some cases, but increasing numbers of men are becoming “stay-at-home dads”. Some men are looking after children at home during traditional office hours through choice or because their partner’s earning power is greater, but redundancy has been a key factor in recent times.