A Bitter Sweet Victory

This week, a Salvadoran woman was released from prison after serving 11 years of her 30 year murder charge. So, why am I mentioning that as any kind of victory at all, let alone a bitter sweet one? Was it self defense? Was she innocent of the charges? The facts are much more convoluted and depressing than that.

She was convicted of murder because she had a stillbirth, and the courts decided it was all her fault.

You are certainly aware that women’s rights vary enormously across the globe, whether it be in regard to protections against violence, representation in government, or the right to bodily autonomy. In El Salvador, the abuse of women is reflected in the most draconian anti-abortion laws that can be conceived by man.

Not only is it illegal to get an abortion at any time and for any reason, but you will also be charged with murder not only if you seek an abortion, but even if you do not seek get enough prenatal care and have a stillbirth. I usually do not speak in black and white terms, but I literally cannot conceive of any way that they can make their anti-abortion laws even more extreme.

Luckily in the case of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, she was not forced to serve the entirety of her sentence. I am happy that she is now free, but I am also deeply depressed as to the details surrounding her release, hence my description of the case.


A woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated murder after having a stillbirth has been freed in El Salvador in a case highlighting the dire consequences of the Central American country’s total ban on abortion.


Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, 34, was released on Thursday after serving almost 11 years for a crime she has always vehemently denied. Her sentence was commuted by the supreme court on the grounds that there was insufficient scientific evidence to determine that she had intentionally caused the stillbirth, but her conviction was not overturned.


She was not released because the government of El Salvador has budged an inch from their horrific laws regarding women’s rights, but rather because they decided that she was convicted on insufficient evidence. Activists must and are still appealing these sentences on a case by case basis in order to try to counteract this gross violation of human rights.


Vásquez is the 16th woman to be freed as a result of appeals and campaigns by reproductive rights groups and lawyers working under hostile conditions perpetuated by the conservative media and powerful anti-abortion groups. A 17th woman, Mayra Figueroa, who was jailed for 30 years in 2003, will be freed next month.


This story is both happy and tragic. Happy for Teodora and her family, but tragic for all the women who still have to suffer under these brutal laws.


Teaching Boys About Consent

We have often heard women saying, when talking about victim blaming and “rape prevention” pamphlets, that you should be teaching men not to rape rather than teaching women what to wear. Of course, to men who do not have any inclination to rape anybody, that kind of statement can come off as condescending. The idea is that obviously men know that they’re not supposed to rape women, but the ones that do are not following the rules, duh, it’s not like they are going to suddenly say “ooohhh! I didn’t know it was against the law! Shit my bad!” and suddenly stop being a monster.

While I get that knee-jerk reaction, it is also unfortunately a very simplistic reaction to what seems to be a simplistic proposal, but what is actually an important concept which is not given enough merit. But hey, don’t take my word for it, see this case study in Nairobi.


The highlights: in this community, where they have begun an active educational campaign about consent, rape was reduced by 50%, and bystanders successfully intervened and stopped assaults 75% of the time.

That’s amazing! Even I am shocked at what a giant impact this had is such a short period of time.

Of course, when people say “teach boys not to rape” they don’t mean wagging their fingers at young boys, tell them not to sexually assault their female peers, and then going back to their morning newspaper. It is much bigger than that.

This campaign is about tackling the problem on multiple fronts. It is about teaching girls about having self confidence, and self worth, and that they have agency over their bodies and their lives. It is about teaching boys different perspectives, and making them think about sex and sexual assault from a healthier angle. It is about reaching equality and mutual respect.

In short, it is about changing culture for the better. And it can work wonders.

And I Know It Worries You

The recent comments of a Polish politician on women’s rights has been spread far and wide on the internet today. My favorite format, however, is this video which includes a direct response from a Spanish MEP.


I like this video because her response is the thing that you have to keep in mind when confronting someone who is so brazenly, unabashedly misogynistic. It is very similar to those who are brazenly, unabashedly xenophobic. They are the ones that feel small, weak and inadequate. They are the ones that, deep down inside, know that they will not make the cut if they are subjected to fair and open competition with women or immigrants. People who are confident in their abilities and their strengths do not bother arguing against opening up the workplace and giving others opportunities to compete, because they do not fear being out-competed. But people, especially men, who deep down know that they don’t match up reject this feeling, lash out, and reassure themselves that at least the virtue of their body parts from birth puts them above other people, and that they will always be superior to someone.

I say especially men not because I think that men are more likely to be assholes, but because men are also victims of a patriarchal society in this case. There is a lot more pressure put on boys to be strong, to show no fear, to become breadwinners. It is for this reason that I think that men are more likely to lash out in the face of their inner feelings of inadequacy. Luckily fewer and fewer boys are being raised in this antiquated mentality, and hopefully people like this will become an old relic of the past. I simply bring it up because it needs to be repeated: men are hurt by patriarchal societies too, just in different ways. Let’s do away with it then, shall we? And those who bleat be damned.

Elephant in the Room Part IV: The Elephant Has Been Spotted

A few days ago, I posted about a woman who died in Italy of sepsis after miscarrying twins. Her family claimed that she died because the doctor on call was a conscientious objector, and refused to complete the abortion she needed to save her life because he could still detect a foetal heartbeat. The hospital denies the charges, but a manslaughter investigation is still underway to assess whether or not the family’s claims have merit.

While Italian law allows for conscientious objection only in the matter of the voluntary termination of a pregnancy, I pointed out that it should not be allowed under any circumstances, particularly in public hospitals. If performing an abortion goes against your moral values, I argued, you need to go into a different specialization or profession. Similarly, if you are a pacifist and owning or firing a gun goes against your moral code (and Italian law also permits conscientious objection to firearms), you cannot be a police officer. I pointed out that no one was really talking about the deep problems with conscientious objection in the medical field, and how our country has a two-fold problem of Catholic hospitals with emergency rooms, which can lead women needing emergency pregnancy-related care to be brought to those hospitals, and conscientious objectors being hired in non-Catholic public hospitals as well.

Well, the elephant in the room has been spotted at last. The controversy surrounding that poor woman’s death is sparking debate and outrage which is not dying down, and I am finally seeing articles addressing the problem of conscientious objection. A study has been conducted to investigate just how many conscientious objectors there are working in hospitals across the country, and the results are mind boggling.

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Elephant in the Room Part II: And It Happens In Italy

and I am deeply disgusted with my country.

Many of you will be familiar by now with the story of Savita, who died of sepsis in Ireland when she was miscarrying and medical staff refused to cure her due to the fact that they could still detect a foetal heartbeat. Her death understandably sparked worldwide outrage and a national debate, centered around the fact that it is still, to this day, illegal to obtain an abortion in Ireland.

Despite also being a predominantly Catholic country, Italy legalized abortion back in the 1970s. For the first three months, a woman can seek an abortion for whichever reason, and she can get the procedure done in a state hospital. After three months, abortion is legal for medical reasons. While on its face the law provides Italian women with more reproductive rights than in Ireland, it is not true that Catholicism has not left its mark upon it.

Italian law allows for doctors to be obiettori di coscienza, or conscientious objectors. This means that no doctor in Italy is forced to perform abortions contrary to their religious or moral beliefs. While most Italian states require doctors to register as conscientious objectors, thereby making sure that there is at least one doctor per hospital who will perform abortions, this regulation is not very well enforced and women in more conservative parts of the country can find themselves falling through the cracks.

The results, of course, are predictable.

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Solidarity With Poland

Poland is considering passing even more restrictive legislation banning abortion, which has sparked massive protests across the country.


Don’t let anyone tell you that the women of Poland are against abortion anyway so it is no big deal, that is an awful lot of people.

I stand in solidarity with the women of Poland. This regression of reproductive rights we are seeing across many countries is disgusting, and it needs to stop.

Saddened, But Not Surprised

Last year, I went to the International Atheist Convention in Cologne. On the last day Michael Nugent, Chairperson of Atheist Ireland, gave a talk about the recent progress that Ireland has made in human rights. It was while we were in Cologne that the news arrived that Ireland had managed to pass marriage equality and Nugent, understandably proud of his country’s progress, stated that we can finally say that Ireland is no longer ruled by Catholic dogma.

In the questions section, I hestiantly threw a bit of a wet blanket on that bold statement. While I am overjoyed at the news about marriage equality, I said, how can you say that Irish law has divorced itself from Catholic dogma when abortion, for pretty much any reason, is still completely illegal? He waffled a bit about sure, that’s the next step, and Atheist Ireland is of course interested in that, but it’s really hard legally speaking, then he changed the subject.

I lived in Ireland for 5 years, and I well remember how topics like abortion and reproductive health were dealt with. I found myself explaining to many of my college peers about the various kinds of birth control and, one day when I found myself needing a morning after pill, I managed to find the indescript white building which was the reproductive health clinic despite that it had no signs, no windows one could see through, and I was buzzed in through a double door overlooked by security cameras. Ireland is still in the middle of an uphill battle to completely divorce church and state.

So when I saw this video about an undercover reporter going to a so called “unbiased” Women’s clinic in Dublin for information about abortion, I was not surprised at all to hear the woman behind the desk making a bunch of ridiculous and horrible shit up to convince the reporter not to go through with it.


Those of you in the States familiar with those bogus health clinics that have cropped up there too will have heard the usual suspects, like you’re going to get breast cancer if you have the abortion, and that the 7 week old fetus will feel pain. This woman takes it further, with gems of steaming bullshit like a 7 week old fetus feels more pain than a toddler because it’s so sensitive, that women who have abortions are more likely to become abusers to their future children, and that you might need a hysterectomy or a colectomy if the abortion goes south. Perhaps someone should inform her that, in the UK at least, abortions are no longer performed with coat hangers.

It’s very sad that in 2016 this is still going on but, as I said, it is not surprising to me in the least. It was not long ago that Savita lost her life as a result of Ireland’s medieval abortion laws, and while I cannot find a single Irish person in my generation who disagrees with legalizing abortion, the country as a whole is apparently still not ready to pass such a law.

So no, I’m not surprised, but I do hope that this exposè causes enough chatter so that the Irish government might, at the very least, start looking into and regulating these so-called Women’s clinics, at least so that they stop being centers of misinformation.

Torn Between Hope and Despair

I don’t understand why some people get so goddamned offended at breastfeeding in public. To go further and verbally abuse someone for doing so makes me despair for our culture, that anyone could presume to be in the right when doing so.

Before the video started rolling he looked at me and said (very angrily), “can’t you do that somewhere else?… That’s fucking disgusting.. You are nasty” (he said a few other things under his breath) I responded with, “I am feeding my baby, and I have the right to do it here…walk the fuck away..leave me the fuck alone” He responded with, (as he’s walking closer and closer to me and getting louder) “you are fucking disgusting…you are fucking disgusting…you are fucking disgusting…you whore”

But then, as she starting filming him and his reaction, staff and shoppers who were around her came to her defense.


Their reaction and their defense of her makes me hope, and believe that all is not lost. I can imagine how scared I would be in such a situation, confronted with someone acting so aggressively as I sat holding my infant. I am so happy for her that the staff at Target took it upon themselves to remove him.

Ireland Accused of Human Rights Violations

For the first time, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has decreed that laws prohibiting abortion can violate a person’s right to freedom from inhumane treatment.

Ireland’s prohibition and criminalisation of abortion services violated the human rights of a woman living in Ireland and caused her “intense physical and mental suffering” according to a ground-breaking ruling from the United Nations Human Rights Committee—a first for any international human rights court or committee.

The U.N. committee found that Ireland’s laws subjected Amanda Mellet to severe emotional and mental pain and suffering by denying her access to abortion services in Ireland. Ms Mellet was denied an abortion in Ireland in 2011 after learning that her pregnancy had a fatal foetal impairment. She subsequently travelled to the United Kingdom to undergo the procedure. The committee instructs the Irish government to act promptly and effectively to redress the harm Ms. Mellet suffered and reform its laws to ensure other women do not face similar human rights violations and to guarantee effective, timely and accessible procedures for abortion in Ireland.

Ireland’s abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world. Abortion is permitted only when there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman. In every other circumstance abortion is a serious crime. Since 1983, the Irish Constitution’s Article 40.3.3 has placed “the right to life of the unborn” on an equal footing with the right to life of pregnant women. 

The U.N. authority found that Ireland’s abortion laws violated Ms Mellet’s right to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The ruling also found that Ireland’s failure to provide services that Ms. Mellet required constituted discrimination. The Committee found that Ireland’s criminalisation of abortion caused Ms Mellet shame and stigma and that her suffering was further aggravated by the obstacles she faced in getting information about the appropriate medical options.

This is a big step forward for reproductive rights. This is the first time that any international human rights committee takes a firm stand on the issue, and I can only hope that it will lead to some progress in Ireland. I, for one, will never forget Savita.