Home > Uncategorized > An open letter to Nadine Dorries, and anyone else who would like to fuck about with reproductive rights. (Part one of many.)

An open letter to Nadine Dorries, and anyone else who would like to fuck about with reproductive rights. (Part one of many.)

The problem is the churches have withdrawn. Where I grew up the priest was king. We were scared of priests – the same with the vicars. The Church played a very important role. The Church set boundaries. So did schools, doctors, district nurses. But the Church withdrew, the state became anonymous and society went into freefall. One of the things about the Big Society is to try to put those boundaries back.” – N Dorries

Where I grew up the priest was also king, Ms Dorries. We had an elected parliament with a lower house and an upper house, as in many democracies, and we also had the archbishop’s palace. Bills were taken to the archbishop’s palace before they were brought to parliament, and any that went to parliament without the support of the church were unlikely to pass.

I could pick almost any topic to illustrate this, but it seems salient to discuss reproductive rights, because it is somehow in the news. This makes me feel as though I am now the proud owner of my very own tardis, and have accidentally set the controls to the dark ages in Ireland, back when I was growing up.

For the record, I do not need to be here.

Let us begin with some catechism, which is where legal matters in my country often find their origin. The Catholic Church believes that sex should only occur between two married heterosexual people, and that its purpose is procreation. If you find this in any way hard to remember, there is a nifty slogan, ‘procreation, not recreation!’ which may help.

Flowing naturally from this starting point, in a ‘therefore my cat is a dog’ sort of way, contraception was illegal in Ireland from 1935 until 1980. To put it another way, contraception was illegal in Ireland when I was born.

Of course that did not mean it was unobtainable or went unobtained. There was a long history of importing banned objects from the other side of the Northern Irish  border. Books were common; contraception likewise. In 1971, a feminist group called the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, produced a beautiful piece of situationalist protest when they returned publicly from Belfast waving for press attention the contraceptives that normally crossed the border illegally and in secret. But throughout the sixties and the seventies, Ireland existed within its own strange moral plane, in which contraception was something only required by the sort of people who lived in other countries. As ever, the educated and the well-off found ways around such restrictions; those without resources birthed children until they died.

In 1978, the government of the day introduced a bill to legalise contraception for bona fide family planning. This meant that contraception could be prescribed by a doctor. Generally remembered as being only permissible for married couples, the bill did not specifically stipulate this, but the prevailing moral climate ensured few general practitioners would have written such a prescription for a single woman. It was passed by elected representatives of the people despite the opposition of the bishops, which was a new and exciting development in Irish parliamentary history.

And so I grew up in a country where contraception was technically legal but deeply controversial.  Sex education did not happen, although I was once taught by a particularly odd nun that homosexuality and abortion were mortal sins. I can assure you that no child in Ireland every learned to put a condom on a banana. Those were the days when letters pages in the more adventurous teen magazines cautioned against attempting to use mars bar wrappers as a contraceptive due to their high rate of failure. Sex education always sounded as though it would probably be a good idea.

I could get on to abortion, but it seems like a topic for a whole other day. Suffice to say, we relied upon and continued to rely upon Britain for that sort of thing.

In the past year, someone correctly identified me as being Irish and asked whether I came from a large family. It’s a cliché that survives. There is nothing in the air or the soil of Ireland that leads to large families; I am quite sure of that. What I have never been sure of is whether there is something innate in religion, forcing it to believe that the ills of society will best be served by legislating its own brand of theocracy for the benefit of all.

Where I grew up the priest was also king, Ms Dorries. But the church did not withdraw. Let us be very clear about that. Great seats of unelected power rarely withdraw. It disgraced itself, not only through its myriad scandals but through its insistence on attempting to maintain a monopoly on morality, while it mainlined misogyny and homophobia. The church did not withdraw. It was fought. It was fought by those who countered  ‘procreation not recreation’ with ‘get your rosaries off our ovaries.’ Those are the songs of my childhood.

I’d really like to leave them there.

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Categories: Uncategorized
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  1. June 1, 2011 at 6:02 pm

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