On 29th November 2013, a photojournalist on a rescue boat in the Aegean Sea took the photograph below of Rukhsan Muhammed struggling to keep her child Mirwan alive. Later, the photographer sold the image to Anadolu Agency (a state-run press agency in Turkey) which licenced it to Getty Images:
Rukhsan Muhammed, one of the passengers of the boat carrying Syrian refugees to Greek Islands fights for her life after the boat sinks at Aegean Sea near the coastal city of Balikesir, in Turkey on November 29, 2013. Rukhsan Muhammed told a new aspect of her family’s dramatic escape, to Turkish authorities during her appearance in court this week. She explained that following the accident she used her suitcase as a means of life preserver to keep her 1,5 years-old child, Mirwan Muhammed, from drowning. But despite of all her efforts her son fell off the suitcase and got lost amongst the waves.
Is going swimming in natural water (that is, in a river or a lake or the sea, not a swimming-pool) a particularly dangerous thing to do? Between 2008-2010, 160 people died of drowning in natural water.
We don’t think of pregnancy as being a particularly dangerous undertaking in the UK. But between 2008-2010 147 people died of their pregnancy and/or childbirth.
(Between 2006-2008, 261 people died of “causes directly or indirectly related to their pregnancies”: the mortality rate for pregnancy in the UK 2006-2008 was 11.39 per 100,000 maternities and still declining.)
Pregnancy may be regarded as about as dangerous as going for a swim in open water. Most healthy adults who go for a swim in natural water survive the experience – even if they accidentally fall in. Nothing would justify pushing someone into deep water without knowing or caring if they could swim: not even if they survived. Anyone offered the experience of a swim in natural water should have a right to say “no thanks”, or to change their mind and go back to shore. Any organised swim across open water ought to include rescue boats to pull people aboard if they change their minds, for any reason or none.
Most people in Scotland agree: the same applies to pregnancy. Even if most healthy adults could survive a forced pregnancy, nothing would justify pushing a girl or a woman to have a baby against her will, her conscience, or her judgement. And anyone can decide for herself that her pregnancy needs to be terminated: no one should be denied rescue from an unwanted or unsafe pregnancy.
This afternoon in Westminster, MPs will debate the last stage of the Scotland Bill before the third reading and voting to pass the Bill to the House of Lords.
One of the recent amendments added to the Bill is from Fiona Bruce, a Conservative MP from an English constituency.
In the House of Commons there is an unfortunate concatenation of MPs who seek to ensure that UK healthcare outsources safe legal abortion overseas, and to subject women who cannot afford to travel to a forced pregnancy. Their excuse for doing so is that a human fetus is protected by “the sanctity of human life”, though a pregnant woman is apparently not so protected.
Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, is a member of this group and was the proposer of the last-minute amendment to the Serious Crimes Act which would have ensured doctors were banned from allowing an abortion if the abortion was sex-selective. This significant change to the 1967 Abortion Act was proposed as a late amendment which would be discussed and voted on only at the third reading of the Serious Crimes bill before it was voted into law.
No consultation on this amendment had been done with groups such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, or the British Medical Association, all of which opposed the amendment.
The expectation of Fiona Bruce and her supporters was that MPs would vote for her amendment because they would not want to appear to support sex-selective abortion: there would be no time – they evidently hoped – for any consultation or explanation why it was a bad idea to vote for doctors to be criminalised if they could be accused of approving sex-selective abortions: how there is little to no evidence of any sex-selective abortions on social grounds in the UK (the key “evidence” was a sting operation run by a Daily Telegraph journalist who lied to doctors and clinic staff and secretly filmed their honest response to her lies).
Yesterday, for the fourth time, the European Court of Human Rights ruled again that the UK is in breach of human rights by having a blanket ban on allowing convicted prisoners serving a custodial sentence the right to vote: it’s nearly ten years now since the UK was first ordered to make some change in this ban, and neither Labour nor Conservatives have cared to do so. (The ECHR has made no order for monetary compensation, which is the only thing likely to move either party.)
In October 2014, there were 7,755 prisoners serving a custodial sentence in Scotland: the imprisonment rate in Scotland is 147 out of 100,000 people (via the Howard League). Since August 2010, there has been a statutory presumption against convicted criminals being sentenced to short periods of imprisonment, unless the court can show reason why this should be so. From the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010
“a court must not pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term of three months or less on a person unless the court considers that no other method of dealing with the person is appropriate.”
If a person goes to jail, it will under most circumstances be because they committed an offence that the court decided mandated a sentence of four months at least. The general rule for any sentence of 12 months or less is that a prisoner will be released automatically on probation after they have served half their sentence.
Yesterday, Channel 4 News ran an anniversary programme, of sorts:
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – hiding for two years in the Ecuadorian embassy – is in “a prison cell with internet access” and “yearns to walk in the fresh air,” says a close friend.
Today, Slavoj Žižek, writing in the Guardian, seems to think that Julian Assange is hiding out in the Ecuador embassy because of something to do with Wikileaks and whistleblowing.
In August 2010, Julian Assange had sex with two women in Sweden. He was, so they both report, aggressive and unpleasant, and very unwilling to use a condom. When they talked to each other and realised he had had unprotected sex against their will with both of them, they went to the police to discover if they could force Assange to take an HIV test – and the police, listening to their account, realised that Assange had by their testimony committed sexual assault and rape.
Until Julian Assange stepped into the Ecuadorean Embassy, nearly two years after the legal due process began in Sweden, he had every element of the justice system due him. He was even on house arrest rather than in prison, in the confidence that he could be trusted with the large amount of money his friends would lose if he skipped bail.
There is an unmarked mass grave in Galway which has become briefly famous by the work of historian Catherine Corless, who spent years tracing the death records of each child whose remains may have been buried there. (You can hear her being interviewed about her work on the mass grave here.)
Timothy Stanley, a Telegraph blogger who converted to Catholicism from the Anglican church, argues that the mass grave is “a human tragedy, not a Catholic one”. At more length, Caroline Farrow, a spokesperson for Catholic Voice, explains that first of all, this wasn’t really so bad, and anyway, everyone except the Catholic Church is probably lying. (I note for the record: the sheer quantity of misinformation and distortion provided by both Stanley and Farrow is quite astonishing.)
On 27th April 1968, 46 years ago, the Abortion Act became law, and women in the UK – except in Northern Ireland – were entitled to get safe, legal abortions. That’s half a lifetime ago. There can be few doctors or nurses still practicing who have first-hand memories of the bad old prolife days.
Every year for the past few years, on the Saturday closest to that date, SPUC stand in a line down Lothian Road, on the Sheraton Hotel side, and express their sorrow and regret for 46 years of health and wellbeing for women.