Sunday, 16 December 2012

Birth activism article

Birth activism movements are often fragmentary and struggle to achieve long-term identities beyond a handful of famous names, and information is even harder to come by than in the case of most social movements. (Two important Irish organisations are the Home Birth Association and the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services. There are two chapters on birth movements in Ireland in this book, by Christina Bermingham and Martina Hynan.)

Theres an unusually good article on the Guardian website here starting from the case of a Hungarian independent midwife one of whose clients recently won her case at the European Court of Human Rights after the midwife was imprisoned for two years for carrying out a home birth. Things are not so much better in practice in Ireland. Over recent years everything possible has been done to put independent midwives out of business: court cases, insurance games, punitive treatment of women referred by independent midwives, refusal of access to testing services and most recently the 2011 Nurses and Midwives bill. (Note that independent midwives are professionally trained - what is at stake is their right to attend women outside the hospital system.) Hopefully the ECHR judgement will make women's right to decide about giving birth enforceable in Ireland.

The key issue is fairly simple: who should have control of a woman's body during pregnancy and birth? Irish popular culture, and a massively powerful medical system, insist that the decisions should be made by professionals, at whatever cost to the women themselves. The result is a culture of massive intervention based not on medical evidence but the peculiar anthropology of Irish hospitals - and, of course, patriarchy.