The topic I chose to discuss for my final post is abortion in the country of Ireland. More specifically is the concept that if there was an improvement in sexual education if that would lead to an increased acceptance for the legalization of abortion, while concurrently reducing the need for abortion in Ireland. I measured all five theoretical frameworks against my topic and the one I decided suited it best was critical medical anthropology theory. I chose this theory because abortion is both a political and social issue. In addition, the well-being of the women in Ireland that are seeking abortions is largely dependent upon the Irish government. There are many factors that need to be considered when understanding the health of individuals within a country, such as political, social, cultural, and economic factors. All these factors come into play when an individual is considering abortion, however a safe path to obtaining an abortion should be available and not restricted because of a government.
I chose the critical medical anthropology theory because it takes into account political, social and economic factors when considering the health of human populations. Critical Medical Anthropology is a “theoretical perspective in medical anthropology which stresses the importance of political and economic structures, especially global capitalism, on the health of human populations (also known as the political economy of health)” (Joralemon, 2010.) This is relevant to abortion because all of these factors come into play when women consider abortion. The topic I’m most interested in is if improvement in sex education would lead to increased acceptance for the legalization of abortion while simultaneously decreasing the need for abortion within Ireland. Increased sex education would decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies thus, decreasing the number of abortions.
Economics comes into play when considering whether people in poor economic situations are faced with a dangerous or unplanned pregnancy if they would be able to afford a chance to save their life. In Ireland, in 2010, 4,402 women from the Republic of Ireland went to England or Wales to access abortion facilities. (IFPA 2010) This is money being spent in foreign countries that could be being spent in Ireland. This is also saying that people who are not in a good financial situation could be left with a dangerous pregnancy. Only medical professionals are able to conclude whether a pregnancy is considered dangerous. For the sexual education side of this argument, there is the topic of contraceptives. Contraceptives had been illegal in Ireland for a long time. In 1979 a bill passes that made contraceptives available but only for adequate medical reasons and for family planning, this essentially means they could only be used my married couples. (Bacik 2013) It has become more widely accepted throughout Ireland now that contraceptives are useful in promoting positive sexual health. This change however, did not occur until around 1992 when the sale of condoms was deregulated. (Bacik 2013) This does not mean that the conservative Catholic have zero resistance against this, it just means that they lost that battle. “Politically, the Catholic Church led a vigorous campaign to prevent the legalisation of contraception based upon church teaching that sex should take place only within marriage, for the purpose of procreation.” (Bacik 2013)
Abortion has become a huge political and moral debate in Ireland since the 1980s. “Abortion was made a criminal offense in Ireland in 1861,” (Bacik 2013) so as you can tell the laws that are being followed are outdated. It is obvious that there are travel options for those seeking abortions however, “the needs of the most vunerable women, the young, the poor, or asylum seekers, for whom travel can be difficult, are not being met.” (Bacik 2013) This ties into critical medical anthropology because it is both a political, and economic issue that is not allowing women to receive the best medical care for their situations. Improved sexual education could help close the gaps that people are fighting in. Ireland is practicing abstinence programs in schools.
“The problem then is that children in abstinence programmes are having sex the same amount as those in programmes which stress safer sex, but have no idea how to put on a condom. Nor do they learn about birth control in general, abortion, sexual orientation or how to access contraceptives or STD services. These programmes then, it becomes clear, are less about effectiveness (they are not effective), and more about ideology.” (Levine 2006)
Ideology, such as religion, is a huge part of Irish culture. The concept of Ireland being a “Catholic Country,” has historically caused problems regarding the health of women. There was an incident in which Savita, a young woman, died in 2012 after being denied an abortion in Ireland (Quinn 2017.) While she was denied an abortion, it was not a direct result of Ireland being a Catholic Country. The denial was based on the doctor’s opinions that were in charge of her care. They did not consider abortion an option because the fetus was not dead when she arrived at the hospital, thus it would have been illegal to terminate the pregnancy. If the doctors thought Savita’s life was in danger when she arrived they could have permitted an abortion to take place. Instead of an abortion, Savita succumb to sepsis and died, her doctors did not realize the extent of her issues until it was too late to save her (Quinn 2017.) This is not to say that improved sexual education would have save Savita’s life, Savita was married. This is however, a point of truth that ideology can sometimes blind people to what the best options would be. “Sex education in Northern Ireland schools was strongly underwritten by powerful ideologies… self-discipline and chastity were emphasized.” (Rolsten, Schubots, Simpson 2005)
It is known that Ireland is not the only place to promote abstinence only programs in their schools. The United States also promotes this. It is the product of some research that shows that school age students who are a part of a comprehensive sexual education are 50 percent less probable to become pregnant as an adolescent that those who experience abstinence-only sex education. (Advocates for Youth, 2009) That statistic itself should help promotes comprehensive sexual education for those against abortion. This however, does not seem to be the case in Ireland. Ireland relies heavily on their religion when educating adolescents about sex, “it was evident that sex education was used to reaffirm the dominant sexual and moral values of society, values with strong and often explicit religious overtones.” (Rolsten, Schubots, Simpson 2005) If school is the only place that these children are receiving their sexual education this could be problematic. Abortion is also covered within these lectures, however only in an effort to frighten women to not consider this an option. “The showing of graphic films, such as the ‘Silent Scream’, which portray abortion simply as murder of an unborn child, and the total absence of any information that promotes the view that it is a woman’s right to make informed choices about the outcome of an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, ensures that religious doctrine on abortion is legitimized and perpetuated.” (Rolsten, Schubots, Simpson 2005)
This is a social and culture issue that we are dealing with. These women are being raised in a culture with abstinence-only sexual education and a culture that shames women for getting abortions. Women who get abortion legally within Ireland most likely feel shame since their religion and their peers consider it unlawful. This could have lasting effects on a woman health overall. I bring up again the economic factor that comes into play when women are considering abortions, not in Ireland but the United Kingdom. The numbers have begun to fall of the number of women in United Kingdom that have to pay for their abortions, however essentially all women from Northern Ireland have to pay for their abortions themselves, despite being part of the United Kingdom. (Francome 2011) There is also the concern of adequate information about abortions. There is always the internet to turn to, but most women are looking for credible sources and do not know where to turn. Most would consider counselling agencies to look for the information. However there has been problems recently of the government shutting down counselling agencies that provide this information thus, “counselling agencies, in fear of being closed down, stopped providing information on abortion.” (Bacik 2013)
To bring this all together let us go back to the definition of critical medical anthropology. Critical medical anthropology is a “theoretical perspective in medical anthropology which stresses the importance of political and economic structures, especially global capitalism, on the health of human populations (also known as the political economy of health)” (Joralemon, 2010.) When considering if the improvement of sexual education would increase the overall acceptance of the legalization of abortion while simultaneously reducing the need for abortion one needs to consider all the structures that come into play when a society is considering the change. There are political, social, cultural, and economic pieces that need to be considered. The political aspect is the most challenging to overcome because it is not a single person’s decision. The political parties have to agree upon some type of middle ground. The two extremes that are presented in Ireland are abortion completely legalized and abortion completely illegal. While neither of these are viable options there should be major consideration at how to find a middle ground. The Irish population is most Catholic, thus producing a society with mostly Catholic ideals. Some of which include abstinence-only sexual education and no abortion. If both of these were followed there would be no issue. However, in the society that everyone is apart of there have been many movements to help sexually liberate women from these constraints. The next aspect is the social aspect, which was discussed above, in summary many ideological changes would have to take place for it to be socially acceptable in Ireland to consider legalized abortion acceptable by the entire Irish community. This whole debate is a cultural debate, the decision that is made would change pieces of their culture. If children were taught comprehensive sexual education than that would allow them to be more aware of their bodies and their sexual identity. It would also lead to a culture shift in the attitude towards abortion, because people would understand other ways to prevent pregnancy. Lastly the economic impact of improved sexual education and more acceptance of legalized abortion would be a big change. The money that women are spending going to other countries would be spent at physician’s practices in Ireland. There would also be less unnecessary travel outside of the country. This change would also allow for women, which traveling is harder, to not take unnecessary risks in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
There are positives and negatives to every situation no matter the side you stand on. The same is true for this matter. There is the solution of making sexual education more comprehensive, however that would not sit well with the more conservative party. There is the solution to just keep the abortion laws the same in Ireland, in which a pregnancy can only be terminated after the deliberation of a doctor. This would not appease the liberal side, which believes that a woman should be able to have the final say in what happens to her body. While there have been moves to legalize abortion in Ireland, there has not been much change in the sexual education practices of adolescents. There may be other options, but I believe this to be the best one that would benefit not only women and everyone.
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