Rights for the most marginal?

// 9 May 2007

Two stories about the right to control women’s bodies make for interesting reading today. In the US the hysterectomy and continuing hormone treatment of a disabled girl has been deemed illegal and in Ireland a teenage girl in care has been granted permission to travel to the UK for an abortion.

In the first case, the girl, known as Ashley, was sterilised, had her breast buds removed and given hormones to suppress her growth.

Ashley’s parents insist these measures are for her benefit – that they will enhance her quality of life while they continue to care for her in their own home. Others accuse them of subjecting their daughter to potentially dangerous treatments for their own convenience, and denying her what they say is her right to grow up.

From New Scientist

In the second case, Miss D (as she is known in the Court system) has been granted permission to travel to the UK to receive an abortion because her baby has anencephaly and will not live. Initially the Irish Health Executive had vetoed her travelling and wrote to the Passport Office refusing its consent for a passport.

Abortion is illegal in the Republic of Ireland unless the mother’s life is in danger and the executive argued that the laws did not permit a termination on the grounds of foetal abnormality. However, Mr Justice Liam McKechnie ruled today that there were no statutory or constitutional grounds for stopping her from travelling to the UK for the operation.

From Guardian

So what do these two cases highlight? Women’s bodies are still the battle ground on which issues of rights are fought out. Our bodies are subject to controls of law and determinations of capacity (initially Miss D was told she didn’t have the capacity to make a judgement on carrying a baby to term only to watch it die, her mother was given that responsibility, we assume the same mother who had Miss D taken into care in the first place). When our bodies are inconvenient we are to be kept as a child rather than provided with adequate social care for our specific needs. I don’t think we’ll even see a male equivalent of Ashley’s case where a boy is administered growth restricting hormones and neutered just to make him easier to care for (after all we don’t even do that to sex offenders). In the end our bodies are not our own.

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