Tagged: sexual assault

Keeping it consistent when it comes to abortion


Have you heard about this case in Ireland where a woman  was denied an abortion and died as a result?

Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old dentist, was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child. She began having severe back pain and was told that she was miscarrying. She then requested that her doctors medically terminate the pregnancy, but was denied because abortion is against the law in Ireland. She died of blood poisoning a couple of days later.

There has been worldwide media attention on the case, since it’s a situation where an abortion actually would have saved the life of the mother.

Ireland’s constitution officially bans abortion, but in 1992, the Supreme Court ruled  that it should be legal when a woman’s life is at risk.The government never passed a law to this effect, which means that Irish physicians are very reluctant to perform abortions, regardless of the circumstances.

In 2010, three women sued the Irish government in the European Court of Human Rights for denying them access abortions. The women each had extenuating circumstances: an alcoholic with four children, two of which were disabled; a woman undergoing chemotherapy, and a woman who had taken emergency contraception that had failed to work. The court found they had no right to abortions under the constitution, and their complaints were dismissed. However, the court also found that Ireland’s ban on abortion even in the case of life-threatening pregnancies was in violation of European Union law.

Halappanavar’s death coincided with the release of a  long-awaited expert report that recommends  possible changes to Irish abortion law. The report was commissioned by the Irish government   after the 2010 European Court of Human Rights ruling.

Currently, about 4,200 women travel outside of Ireland every year to terminate pregnancies.

I’m as pro-choice as they come, but you’ve got to give it to the Irish. They are so adamantly against abortion that they sought a travel injunction against a 14 year old who was raped by a neighbor and whose parents were trying to get her to England to have an abortion.

They refuse abortion in all cases. No matter what. No exceptions for rape, no exceptions for life-threatening conditions, no exceptions for the threat of fetal-alcohol syndrome, or neglect, or deformity caused by chemotherapy.

It ain’t pretty, but if you are against abortion, then own it.

They acknowledge that sometime women die when they don’t have access to safe, legal abortion. They have no problem with the fact that outlawing abortion means that  women and girls are forced to carry pregnancies to term and then parent children that are the product of rape when they are denied access to safe and legal abortion.

That’s the reality, and at least the Irish government is willing to take the fall out.

What do you think?


Irihs Times op-ed


Women and War

Yesterday was Veterans Day, and President Obama marked the event by laying a wreath at Arlington Cemetery.

The rituals of Veterans Day are all very scripted, solemn and patriotic.  There are always serious faces, the requisite honoring of old men, the sporting of uniforms, remarks about freedom and sacrifice and America being great.

All in all, it’s a very male event.

But the military is changing.  Since 9/11,over  200,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This means that there are a whole host of health issues that are now part of the military that weren’t before, and the VA medical system is struggling to keep up. According to the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN):

Only 15% of women veterans use VA facilities. VA culture is still rife with male-bias, leading many women veterans to feel that the VA cannot properly attend to their gender-specific health needs […] Furthermore, VA healthcare is characterized by its “fragmentation,” meaning that women are not able to access comprehensive health services from their primary providers but rather must be referred elsewhere or travel enormous distances for routine services such as gynecological exams. Additionally, VA hospitals often foster uncomfortable, unwelcoming or hostile environments for women.

The VA is doing some work to address this, and for that they should be commended. The VA has initiated  “Culture Change Campaign” complete with PSAs:


Still, the biggest health challenge faced by female veterans, however, is not figuring out where to get a Pap test, it’s dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault, often perpetrated by their own colleagues. As many as one out of three  (!!) women leaving military service have reported being the victim of some kind of sexual assault. Rape and sexual assault continues to be a huge problem for women in all branches of the US military.

Part of this is because of the nature of military culture. To a significant extent, constructs of masculinity, of what it means to be a man, are built on domination of women. And the military is nothing if not a masculine institution.  In her book Earth Follies,  Joni Seager points out the “surprisingly transparent phallic imagery” that pervades military language: “soft laydowns, deep penetration, hard missiles.”

I mean, what does this look like to you?

Is an army without rape even possible?

Even more disturbing is the fact that this epidemic of sexual assault is unequally distributed across the population, given that the US Army consists of an all-volunteer force. According to the Population Reference Bureau,  while the most powerful predictors of who will serve in the military are survey responses indicating that people want to serve, or expect to serve, in the military, enlistment is also highly contingent on social class.

Children of college educated parents are less likely to serve. Those with higher  high school grades are less likely to serve. African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to serve than whites. That means that an African American woman whose parents do not have a college education is more likely to enlist and be at risk for sexual assault than a white woman from an affluent family whose parents have a college education. Once again, health disparities are contingent on income and social class.

It’ssomething to think about amidst all the parades and noble speeches about the greatest generation.

What are your thoughts? Have you been in the military? Known someone who is? What do you think are the most pervasive issues female soldiers and veterans face?