No-one seems to have responded to the pregnant woman on a human level

Opinion: ‘There are two very vulnerable people in this nightmare who have been let down by our selective indignation’

‘Being stigmatised for being pregnant outside of marriage was a common phenomenon until recent decades in Ireland. We routinely condemn those times.’  Photograph: Getty Images

‘Being stigmatised for being pregnant outside of marriage was a common phenomenon until recent decades in Ireland. We routinely condemn those times.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 00:01

Our concern for migrant women seems to vary greatly. Take a migrant woman in inadequate accommodation somewhere in Ireland. She doesn’t speak English and she has few friends.

She has no idea what her future holds and she is terrified and depressed. She has made a suicide attempt, but no one has offered any human care, and so she continues on for weeks in that state.

What would the response of the Irish public be? Well, aside from some NGOs and campaigning journalists, not very much. But add a pregnancy and a reported rape into that mix, and suddenly there are marches, there are protests, and a huge amount of editorialising about how badly we treat women in this country, particularly migrant women.

Let’s look specifically at migrant women who are asylum seekers. What sympathy is extended to asylum seekers in near despair because our cumbersome and unjust asylum-seeking system is forcing them to live in poverty in overcrowded accommodation?

In May, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) reported that the direct provision system for asylum seekers leaves many people utterly vulnerable to sexual abuse. People from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds are forced to live with little personal space or privacy and many of them have reason to fear making complaints to authority figures.

The RCNI also reported that living on €19.10 a week leaves women very vulnerable to pimps seeking women to work as prostitutes.

In 2012, seven incidents of sexualised behaviour among children in direct provision were reported. Children and women have reported being afraid to use mixed-gender toilets at night, and resorting to using buckets in their rooms instead.

But none of that roused us from our apathy.

The young migrant woman at the centre of the controversy this week because she felt depressed and suicidal, and would prefer to have been dead rather than pregnant, so far appears to have been failed both by NGOs and State bodies.

No one seems to have responded to her on a human level. No one seems to have assured her she was safe, that people would care for her, that she could come through this without resort to violence against herself or her baby.

According to what she told Kitty Holland, this young woman could not even tell a friend because “. . . For me this was shameful. In our culture if a girl gives birth to a child before marriage everything is finished. No one can respect you. As well as that, for me, with the rape, it was difficult.”

So from her own account, being pregnant outside of marriage was a factor in feeling suicidal, as well as being raped.

Being stigmatised for being pregnant outside of marriage was a common phenomenon until recent decades in Ireland. We routinely condemn those times.

When the best that we can offer such a woman is an abortion, it reinforces the idea that being pregnant is an unbearable stigma, one that can only be overcome by ending the pregnancy. But it is a rapist’s child, we say, and no one could be expected to carry a rapist’s child.

Rape is a horrific act of violence, but the baby in an incubator today does not deserve to be stigmatised as a rapist’s child. He or she is a victim of a rapist, just as much as the mother, because who would choose to be conceived in violence?

A letter in Thursday’s Irish Times encapsulated what others have implied – that aborting this child at an early stage would have been preferable.

This is being said even though the baby is alive, and in the information age, will one day be able to access every word, if he or she survives without significant disability.

How compassionate is it to tell a helpless child that it would have been preferable if he or she had been aborted?

How far have we really moved on when all we have done is transferred the stigma to the child conceived in rape?

But it is the woman’s choice, we are told. It is her body. Of course it is her body, but when it comes to other choices we recognise that the right to choose ends long before the right to end someone else’s life.

I fully support the right to choose, when the choices are non-violent. Abortion is a sanitised violence, carried out in quasi-medical conditions. But it ends a human life. That is indisputable.

You can query personhood, but you cannot query that the unborn child is human, and alive.

In an incubator, a tiny baby is struggling at this moment. As a student I worked as an attendant in a small maternity unit, and saw premature babies for whom every breath seemed a gargantuan victory.

Seeing babies who would fit easily into my cupped hands left me with an indelible impression of their fragility and vulnerability.

There are two very vulnerable people in this nightmare who have been let down by our selective indignation. Compassion that focuses on only one or the other is not compassion at all.

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