Friday, September 28, 2007

Amnesty and the abortion issue

I SHOULD preface this week’s column by saying that as a general rule I’m not pro-abortion.
There are few circumstances where I believe it is right to extinguish the life of an unborn baby and in an ideal world we would not have abortion - unwanted pregnancies could lead to much wanted children for childless couples. I state in “an ideal world” because sadly the world we live in is far from ideal and because of that there are times when tough choices have to be made.
There are times when we really are faced with choosing the lesser of two evils and this is why the debate over Amnesty International’s decision to support abortion for rape or incest victims is not the black and white issue some would like to make us believe.
I’ve been incensed as Catholic schools have withdrawn their support for Amnesty over this issue and even more incensed to read social commentators tell us that we have to stop Amnesty killing “all the wee babies”. Life, sadly and cruelly, is not all huggy, happy, holy, Irish cute baby-tastic.
At times it is unbearably evil and there are times when, as painful as it might be to others, the rights of the mother have to come into consideration. I’ll admit that until quite recently I was largely ignorant of the goings on in Darfur. Since becoming a mother I’ve switched off from a lot of the nastiness of the world finding that it takes little more than an ad for baby formula, never mind genocide, to tip me off into floods of tears.
I didn’t switch off from American drama series ‘ER’ however, and about a year ago the programme makers portrayed two of its doctors going to Darfur as part of Medicine San Frontiers. I was shocked by what I saw and against my better judgement (and my fragile emotional state) I went online and researched the human rights violations in the heart of Sudan.
Thousands of women and children have been raped as a weapon of war. Children as young as six or seven have been gang-raped in front of their parents. Should anyone speak out against the Sudanese army, or the Janjaweed (the militia who work alongside them) they face rape, torture and death.
When these women are raped, their lives are destroyed entirely. In a large number of cases they are ostracised from their families and their communities and left to fend for themselves in a war-torn country. If they fall pregnant as a result of their rape, their children are often abandoned, disowned or taken from them. Both mother and child face destitution, starvation and death.
There have been reported cases of pregnant rape victims being arrested and jailed for having sex outside of marriage and for unlawful pregnancy.
Due to the violence of their attacks many of these women suffer severe internal damage. When giving birth, women who have been raped are prone to developing fistulas (internal tearing which does not heal) and lose control of their bladder or bowel functions.
They become further isolated as a result of their incontinence - and that’s only if the attack hasn’t left them subject to infections such as HIV or Hepatitis - for which treatment is rarely available in refugee camps. far from an ideal world For these women, life holds no hope. There is no way to hide their status as “victim” as their bellies grow.
In an ideal world there would be medical treatment available to help these women survive the physical and emotional trauma of what has happened to them.
In an ideal world there would be a sea-change of cultural thought so that their communities embraced them and helped in their recovery.
In an ideal world their babies would be loved and welcomed as new lives, separate from the crimes of their father.
But as I have said, this is far from an ideal world.
Kate Gilmore, spokesperson for Amnesty International cites the situation in Darfur when explaining her organisation’s decision to support abortion in cases of rape and incest. "Amnesty International's position is not for abortion as a right but for women's human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations," she said, adding: "Amnesty International stands alongside the victims and survivors of human rights violations.
"Our policy reflects our obligation of solidarity as a human rights movement with, for example, the rape survivor in Darfur who, because she is left pregnant as a result of the enemy, is further ostracised by her community. “Ours is a movement dedicated to upholding human rights, not specific theologies. Our purpose invokes the law and the state, not God."
It’s a very brave move by Amnesty - one they know will have lost them supporters, but there is nothing easy or black and white about the situation the women in Darfur are facing. It’s very easy, in our Western world with our peace-time morality to make blanket judgements about Amnesty and their decision but I for one applaud their bravery and until a time when women have the basic rights to life themselves we cannot that they too deserve consideration, help and support.

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