The 8th Amendment Means that Pregnant Women Can Be Forced to have a C-section Against Their Will
The HSE Consent Policy makes it clear that a pregnant woman does not have a final decision in relation to her medical choices when she is pregnant and giving birth. It says that there is legal uncertainty around a pregnant person’s right to give and revoke informed consent due to the 8th Amendment.
Here is the story of a mother who experienced what that means in practice.
By Ruth O’Mahony
My pregnancy with my second child was overshadowed by one persistent worry: that I would have to have another c-section. Having had a long labour followed by a traumatic emergency c-section two years previously, I was very anxious about having to go through the same thing again. It permeated everything – buying newborn clothes, receiving the communal maternity wear bag, the picking of names and the first flutterings in my belly. It was the constant din in the background. The more I researched the best ways to minimise the possibility of another section, the more anxious I got. It all seemed so out of my control. In a system where I was supposed to be a good, obedient, cooperative patient and deliver up a healthy baby in whatever way the professionals saw fit, quibbling about major abdominal surgery and how it could be avoided was somehow self indulgent. The more research I did, the more I realised that the maternity system I had experienced with my firstborn was all about retrieving healthy babies from mothers in the face of savage budget cuts, rather than creating a positive birthing experience. But it was okay, because I was doing all I could to increase my chances of a natural birth, and they couldn’t make me have another section… until I realised that yes, yes they could.
Under the 8th Amendment, they very much can. I fully believe that the professionals working in the Irish maternity hospitals have their patients’ care at heart in everything they do. They strive to support and care for patients in the face of harsh budget cuts and relentless pressure. However, the 8th Amendment and its dehumanisation of women in pregnancy and childbirth is at the core of the structure of maternity care in Ireland. It is very hard to feel empowered within a system that states that not only are you not in control, but your consent is not actually required. How terrifying is that? How do you get your head around that when trying to think positively? How do you negotiate what you need for a calm, gentle birth in a system that legally does not need your consent; in a system where a woman facing the same predicament, seeking to maximise her chances of a calm, natural birth, had been denied the chance of a homebirth by the state and forced to travel to England – home of all our reproductive solutions? How do you talk about your needs in a system where it is illegal for a woman to choose how to birth? How do you communicate at all in a system that views your needs as an afterthought, a courtesy extended from good manners rather than human rights?
My hospital had a patient advocate, who helped me feel heard within a system that considers my voice irrelevant. I felt such relief that someone would listen, my birth plan would be read, my choices respected. However, I am wondering if my gratitude was misplaced. When you take women’s voices away from us, we become objects. A voiceless mother with a voiceless baby inside; some sort of macabre Russian stacking doll. Under the 8th Amendment, I did not have a voice in my maternity care, the decisions made about my body, my baby, my care, the decisions that would affect me for the rest of my life, that would affect my children – my input into those decisions was minimum. Being heard was a favour granted by a hospital that is trying to provide women with the best care possible in a country that sees us as vessels, a country that trots out the ‘sure a healthy baby is all that matters’ line in response to any dissent.
I did not need another c-section. I was listened to, treated well, respected, heard. I was lucky. But should it be about luck? Should it be about a doctor bestowing kindness upon their patients? Should it not be a basic right? Shouldn’t every girl in Ireland know that, throughout their life, they have bodily autonomy? That nobody will ever hold them down and cut them against their will? Already, a woman has been forced to continue a pregnancy and have a c-section against her will. Already, a woman has been kept on life support against her family’s wishes in order to continue a pregnancy. This is the stuff of the darkest science fiction, made real.
This is Ireland. Once that little line appears, your human rights are irrevocably changed. We live in a country that has shamed us, silenced us, churched us, cut us up, torn us apart, sent us and our children out onto the streets. We as women have been shown time and time again in every facet of our lives that the state does not care for our well-being, because it will not listen to us.
It’s time to make women’s voices heard. It’s time to repeal the 8th.