I woke up this morning to the sounds of my adopted nephew, who has bipolar disorder, ADHD, FASD, and operational defiance disorder, and my daughter playing Just Dance on the Wii. Granted, it’s not perhaps the gentlest of ways to wake up: Who let the dogs out is OTT at the best of times. The kids were enjoying themselves so I hid with some tea in the kitchen and read the news. This article by Sarah Ditum for the New Statesman was the very first thing I read and I was both horrified and heart-breaking.
A young woman living in Ireland was raped, became pregnant, was denied an abortion, was force-fed during a hunger strike as she was suicidal and then forced to endure a c-section at 24 weeks gestation. As Ditum makes clear, this woman experiences a catalogue of violations of her bodily integrity:
And what trauma. As an onlooker to this case, what strikes me is the constant traffic of foreign objects through this woman’s body, imposing foreign wills. The penis of the rapist who forced himself into her. The nasogastric tube stuck into her nostril and down against her resisting throat. The scalpel of the doctors who cut her open, their hands in her belly, the moving horror of another body within your restrained flesh. The unbelievable awfulness of being compelled to provide life to the child of the man who raped you. And the terrible silence of voicelessness, a woman with no tongue that would let her be heard.
This is the reality of woman-hating in our culture: a woman is nothing more than a womb to carry a foetus conceived in rape. A woman is violated over and over again by the Patriarchy who care only about the rights of foetus when it is inside the body of a woman.
We don’t know the health of the child but being born at 24 weeks has a very high risk of being severely disabled. Maternal stress also has a negative impact on the foetus. This child does not have very good prospects: being placed in foster care for adoption (if the birth mother so chooses) does not have great outcomes for a child with disabilities. Most adoptive parents do not want a child with disabilities and remaining in the care system does very little for a child’s mental and physical health. This assumes the child will be considered adoptable – Ireland prohibits the adoption of children born in marriage and has other equally bizarre rules which make adoption difficult. If the mother chooses to keep the child, the welfare state of Ireland (or indeed anywhere) is not supportive of a child with disabilities. Accessing the minuscule services that exist requires daily fights. It is emotionally and physically draining. The outcomes for this child, if they survive birth at 24 weeks, is not very good in any scenario.
The mother has experienced multiple traumas. Regardless of whether or not she will choose to keep the child, there is no real welfare state or health care which can support her through the trauma of rape, forced pregnancy and forced surgery. Her mental and physical health are not known (and must remain unknown for her privacy) but we can imagine the consequences of trauma.
The other question is who will pay for this care for both the mother and the child now born? No country has real universal healthcare which supports women through trauma and gives appropriate support to a person with disabilities. Poverty, and all the consequences which come with it including poor physical and mental health, are the future of this woman and the child.
My nephew was adopted in an open-adoption in Canada which supposedly has a welfare state and national healthcare. He has a relationship with his extended birth family, as well as his extended adopted family. We all love him but we also know the reality of his life: the fights for appropriate support in school, mental health care, physical health care and inclusion in society. Every day we watch him battle with the consequences of this multiple diagnoses. Yet, he is one of the “lucky” ones because he has a stable home life and a knowledge of his whole family. Most children born with disabilities who are in the care system have to deal with being bounced from foster placement to care homes dealing with a system which prefers to spend money on weapons than on caring appropriately for its citizens.
It is unlikely we will ever learn how or if this child and their birth mother live, but this is why reproductive justice is more than access to abortion or birth control or living in a world without rape. Far too many traumatized women and children bear the brunt of a culture which privileges foetuses over people.