Second Opinion: Pregnancy still a crisis the State can’t seem to deal with
Pregnancy is what happens when males and females have sex. Pregnancy is normal. Photograph: Getty Images
Thirty years ago 15-year-old Ann Lovett was found dying in a grotto just outside the town of Granard, Co Longford, by three schoolboys. She had just given birth to an infant son beside a statue of the Virgin Mary.
By the time she was found the child was dead. Ann, who was bleeding heavily, was in a semi-conscious state and suffering from shock and exposure. She died in hospital later that day.
Granard’s response was typically Irish: close ranks and bury the scandal before anyone finds out. The story of her death was not reported in the media until five days after the funerals when a local man rang the Sunday Tribune. “Girl dies giving birth in a field,” was published on February 5th, 1984.
Despite the insertion of article 40.3.3 into the Constitution in October 1983, giving unborn children and pregnant women an equal right to life, no one helped Ann Lovett.
The hysterical, woman-hating, divisive campaign that ran for several months at that time must have terrified any girl or woman experiencing a crisis pregnancy, whatever her age. No one seemed to know about Ann’s pregnancy and, apart from the media, few bothered to find out.
Ann was only 15 and below the age of consent to sexual activity. Had a crime been committed? Who was the father? Was he from Ann’s peer group in which case he would be in his mid to late 40s by now? What did he think about the death of his son? Who knows?
The events in Granard were seen by many people as changing Irish attitudes to sex in general and to unmarried mothers in particular. But did they?
Most legal and social changes that happened afterwards came about because of the newly enshrined constitutional right to life of unborn children rather than any real concern for women’s rights.
In 1985 Eileen Flynn was dismissed from her job as a teacher in a State-funded convent secondary school when she gave birth to a baby as an unmarried mother, the father being a separated married man.
In 1992 a pregnant 14-year-old rape victim, known as X, was prevented from leaving Ireland to procure an abortion.
The Supreme Court ruled that a woman had a right to an abortion if her life was in danger. A three-part referendum followed which confirmed women’s right to travel to other member states for an abortion and to receive information on such services.
These referendums were not held to vindicate women’s rights to life, travel or information. Their purpose was to ensure that women’s existing rights did not interfere with the right to life of the unborn.
There has been some progress in promoting the sexual health of citizens since Ann Lovett’s death.
The Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act 1985 liberalised the law on contraception by allowing condoms to be sold to people over 18 without a prescription.
The Crisis Pregnancy Agency, now the Crisis Pregnancy Programme (CPP), was not established until 2001, 17 years after the events in Granard.
Response to abortions
The agency was set up in response to the numbers of women having abortions in the UK, not because of concern for the health of pregnant Irish women. In 2001 some 6,673 women with Irish addresses had an abortion in Britain.
This was not good news for a country that gave foetuses the same constitutional rights as female citizens. Something had to be done.
The CPP has done a good job in reducing the numbers of women travelling for an abortion to 3,982 in 2012. The number of teenage pregnancies has also reduced from 3,017 in 2001 to 1,639 in 2012. That is progress.
Some things have not changed. Ireland is the only European country, apart from the Holy See and Malta, that does not allow abortion when a woman’s health, as distinct from her life, is at risk.
There is still little talk about fathers’ responsibilities and rights.
A Crisis Fatherhood Agency might ensure that unborn children’s rights come before male citizens’ rights? Pregnant women are still stuck with a 60-year-old model of maternity services that is not fit for purpose.
And why is getting pregnant still a crisis? Pregnancy is what happens when males and females have sex. Pregnancy is normal.
The Irish State just can’t seem to deal with the consequences of sexual activity without dragging religion and the Constitution into what ought to be the simple provision of health services.
Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion.