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Nov 14 12

Woman Dies from Miscarriage in Galway After Denied a Life-Saving Abortion

by Phil O'Kane

It is being reported that that a woman died on Sunday 28th of October in University College Hospitals, Galway, after it was found she was having a miscarriage, yet doctors refused to perform an abortion.

The woman, Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old dentist who was married for four years and hoping to start a family, was 17 weeks pregnant. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said that she had been in severe pain and on discovering she was miscarrying had requested a medical abortion. She was told by doctors, “this is a Catholic country”.

Galway Pro-Choice released a statement:

Savita was first admitted to the hospital on October 21st complaining of severe back pain. Her doctor initially told her that she would be fine, but she refused to go home. It became clear that her waters had broken, and she was having a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion). She was told that the foetus had no chance of survival, and it would all be over within a few hours.

However, her condition did not take its expected course, and the foetus remained inside her body. Although it was evident that it could not survive, a foetal heartbeat was detected. For this reason her repeated requests to remove the foetus were denied. By Tuesday it was clear that her condition was deteriorating. She had developed a fever, and collapsed when attempting to walk. The cervix had now been fully open for nearly 72 hours, creating a danger of infection comparable to an untreated open head wound. She developed septicaemia.

Despite this, the foetus was not removed until Wednesday afternoon, after the foetal heartbeat had stopped. Immediately after the procedure she was taken to the high dependency unit. Her condition never improved. She died at 1.09am on Sunday the 28th of October.

Had the foetus been removed when it became clear that it could not survive, her cervix would have been closed and her chance of infection dramatically reduced. Leaving a woman’s cervix open constitutes a clear risk to her life. What is unclear is how doctors are expected to act in this situation.

There are a number of takeaways from this horrible incident, and much needs to be done to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Now is the time for detailed abortion legislation to be introduced in Ireland. It is unacceptable that a doctor can refuse to offer life-saving treatment on the basis of religion.

Choice Ireland spokesperson, Stephanie Lord said:

“Today, some twenty years after the X case we find ourselves asking the same question again – if a woman is pregnant, her life in jeopardy, can she even establish whether or not she has a right to a termination here in Ireland? There is still a disturbing lack of clarity around this issue, decades after the tragic events surrounding the X case in 1992.”

How honest, now, is the term “Pro-Life” to describe those fighting to prevent a woman’s right to make a choice on her body. This case has simply gone against what many people like to state, that women do not die in this day and age from pregnancies. They do.

In a piece in the Irish Times, John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, County Mayo, states:

‘Choose Life!’ – this is the campaign call of the Catholic bishops of Ireland to raise public awareness that every human life is beautiful and that every human life is precious.

The Constitution recognises “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect” that right. The clear intention, therefore, is to protect and cherish equally the lives of both the mother and her unborn child.

In fact, Ireland, without abortion, is recognised as one of the safest countries in the world to be a pregnant mother. This is something about which we should be proud and is a tribute to the excellent care provided by hospital staff who treat both mother and unborn child with equal dignity and respect as people in their own right. Clearly, if the life of the mother is threatened, by illness or some other medical condition, the care provided by medical professionals will make sure that she receives all the medical care needed.

As stated by the European Centre for Law and Justice:

Even considering the broad European consensus on abortion, the Court considers that it doesn’t limit the sovereign right of Ireland to prohibit abortion, because of “the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake” (§ 233)

Apart from those positive holdings affirming that there is no right to abortion, the ECLJ must strongly reject the erroneous assumption of the ECHR of the existing of a “lawful abortion in Ireland in accordance with Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution” Article 40.3.3, adopted by a referendum held in 1983, reads as follows and doesn’t recognize any right to abortion : “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” The Court’s interpretation of article 40.3.3, may lead to a forced recognition of a right to abortion.

Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Savita Halappanavar.

Nov 12 12

[Music] Xemplify — A Revolution

by Phil O'Kane

This is no simple reform,
It really is a revolution.

Sex and race,
Because they are easy, visable, differences,
Have been the primary ways of
Organising human beings
Into superior and inferior groups.
And into the cheap labour,
On which the system still depends.

We are talking about a society,
In which there will be no roles
Other than those chosen or those earned.
We’re really talking about Humanism.

Nov 2 12

Geek Manifulster

by Phil O'Kane

The GeekManifulster Pledge reached its target! But there is still a lot of work to be done.

geek manifestoThe idea behind the pledge is to have a copy of the Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters on the desk of each MLA in Stormont. 56 people have now pledged that they will send a copy to an MLA of their choice, though there are 108 MLAs in Stormont.

The book is written by Mark Henderson, Head of Communications at the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health by supporting the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities, while the book sets an agenda for how science should be much more central than it is to government and the wider national conversation. Science and critical thinking should be at the forefront of government and political decisions — the current state of affairs is from from this, and no less so in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK.

And so with this in mind, we have the “GeekManifulster”, as coined by Shane McKee.

In Northern Ireland we have our Legislative Assembly with 108 elected Members (MLAs), largely elected along the lines of the traditional parties who have tussled and wrangled over Our Wee Country for the past 45 years (a time that has not always been happy). Political rhetoric in Northern Ireland is often based along religious faultlines, and people seem reluctant to toss that aside in favour of a more inclusive and evidence-based future.

The #GeekManifulster Pledge sets out to help change the culture in Stormont. We want to give each MLA a copy of the book, and let them know that science-minded people (whether they are actually scientists or not) form a major part of their constituency. If they want our votes, they need to show they are ready to take on the challenge.

Northern Ireland’s economy was once built on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We built ships, from the Titanic to the Canberra. We built planes, generators, turbines. We developed textiles that helped win World War II. Our scientists split atoms, unlocked the mysteries of thermodynamics, discovered quasars. We have nothing to be ashamed of, and science can help pull us out of this recession.

What to do now?

  1. If you haven’t read The Geek Manifesto, do!
  2. Join the Geek Manifulster Facebook Group.
  3. Share with friends on Facebook, Twitter, email etc.
  4. Then pick which MLA you would like to send a copy to… (perhaps try to pick someone who you may not have voted for in the past, or whose views you might normally disagree with – go on – get out of your comfort zone!).
  5. You’ll need to add your name beside an MLA on the spreadsheet.
  6. Start thinking of ways you might be able to enhance the profile of science in the public sphere

Science is vital, and science and reason have never been stronger within Northern Ireland.
Let’s make this happen.

Oct 25 12

Event: Dr. Stephen Baker — The Propaganda of Peace

by Phil O'Kane

McHugh’s Bar, Queens Square [map],
The Lucan Room (above the restaurant),
Thursday 1st November 7.30pm.

Facebook event page

We are very pleased to announce this month’s speaker: Dr Steven Baker, Lecturer in Film and Television Studies and author — yes, it’s on 1st Nov, but don’t let that fool you, it’s still our October event!

With the media being such an intrinsic part of our lives, understanding and deciphering the bias and uncovering the truth from the untruth can be difficult. Specifically, what impact did the media in Northern Ireland have on the peace process?

Stephen Baker is a Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Ulster. He is the co-author, with Greg McLaughlin, of The Propaganda of Peace: The role of the media and culture in the Northern Ireland Peace Process (2010) and together they are currently working on a new book entitled The British Media and Bloody Sunday (forthcoming 2013). Stephen also researches and publishes work analysing representations of class in British film and television drama.

The Propaganda of Peace considers the media and broader cultural representation of Northern Ireland during the peace process. In particular it argues that the media played a significant role in persuading the public to accept the new political dispensation. The argues that to really appreciate the cultural shift that attended Northern Ireland’s political transformation, requires us to look across a broad range of factual and fictional representations, from journalism and public museum exhibitions to film, television drama and situation comedy. Ultimately the authors ask whether the ‘propaganda of peace’ actually promotes the abandonment of a politically engaged public sphere at the very moment when public debate about neo-liberalism, financial meltdown and social and economic inequality make it most necessary.

Before enrolling as a mature student in Media Studies at the University of Ulster in the mid-1990s, Stephen made a series of ill-fated attempts at working for living; as a van driver’s mate, a shop assistant and a civil servant. For a short time he was an ineffective shop steward for the Transport and General Workers’ Union and in 1996 stood in the Northern Ireland Forum elections as a Labour Coalition candidate in the Strangford constituency. He didn’t get elected but has the consolation of being on first name terms with just about everyone who voted for him, so few were there.

Stephen is a socialist of no fixed political abode, who defies the maxim that as you get older you get more right-wing.

Oct 11 12

Abortion Clinic To Open in Belfast

by Phil O'Kane

It was announced today that the Marie Stopes charity will be opening a sexual health clinic in Belfast on Thursday 18th October — the clinic will offer abortions to women “within Northern Ireland’s current legal framework”.

A spokeswoman said: “Medical abortion up to nine weeks’ gestation will be available at the centre.

“Our provision of early medical abortion will be the same service that is currently available from the NHS in Northern Ireland, available only within the current legal framework: that is, if a woman’s life is at immediate risk or there is a risk of ‘real and serious’ long term or permanent damage to her physical or mental health, she may have an abortion in Northern Ireland.” — The Detail

Abortion is a particularly hot-topic in Ireland, both North and South of the border, however what the planned opening of the clinic has done is to make the debate more relevant and is playing a large part in educating people about the legal stance on abortion in Northern Ireland. It has come as a surprise to many that abortions are legal in through the NHS. While this service is only available under highly regulated circumstances where the life or mental and physical well-being of the pregnant woman was at immediate risk. It is clear that many eligible women in Northern Ireland are turned away from this service under the NHS as doctors often do not know the full extent of the law.

From the BBCNews website:

Q. What is the law on abortion in Northern Ireland?

The law in Northern Ireland is as it was in Britain before 1967. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act makes all abortions illegal. The 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act was extended to Northern Ireland in 1945 and allows abortion to preserve a mother’s life. Also the Bourne judgement 1938 – case law allowing abortion in circumstances of risk to mental or physical health.

While the service is available under these circumstances through the NHS, programme director Dawn Pervis has said that the clinic offers “a safe place for women and men to find support, be provided with help and counselling, to feel that they are being listened to and not judged. It is a matter of choice, every step of the way. A woman may decide that she does not want to choose a termination. If she does, then offering early medical abortion cuts out the stress of having to travel outside Northern Ireland to access those services.”

The Marie Stopes website details the abortion pill procedure.

Women over 16 will be able to avail of the abortion service provided, however the clinic also provides a number of other serivces:

  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Female sterilisation
  • Well Woman screening
  • Cervical screening
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Chlamydia tests
  • Gynaecological checks
  • Menopause checks
  • For men

  • Vasectomy
  • Well Man screening
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • HIV testing
  • Chlamydia tests

In a statement released this morning, Alliance MLA, Anna Lo said:

“I would like to welcome the opening of the first Marie Stopes clinic in Northern Ireland. I will be giving them my full support and I would like to send my warmest wishes to Dawn Purvis the director of this clinic.

“They will be operating within the current law, so I am deeply saddened by the criticism that some people have directed towards this development.

This is a step forward in the right direction for Northern Ireland, especially considering that we are decades behind the rest of the UK on this issue. There is still more work to do to offer women full choice but this is a ground breaking day for women in Northern Ireland.

We should not be forcing women to travel to Britain to even have a termination that would be legal in Northern Ireland. We are putting extra pressure on women by forcing them to travel across the Irish Sea to have a termination.

I hope people can treat this issue with the sensitivity that it deserves and not use inflammatory language that puts stress on women who will have to make a difficult decision.”

It is this support and and counselling which is vital and this clinic makes it easier for women to seek the help they need. It is important to stir opinion and making women aware of what their options are. It is also worthwhile noting that 9 weeks actually looks like: an inch long, the head very big in proportion to the rest of it, eyes out to the side, brain cells still unconnected, some spontaneous movements purely due to reflexive activity, no conscious awareness.

Sep 30 12

Christ on a Bike, it’s Blasphemy Day!

by Phil O'Kane

Sure it’s easy to joke about religion — like, really easy — and while International Blasphemy Day isn’t a designated berate religions or offend people of faith, but rather a day to stand up for freedom of expression. The fact that in some parts of the world it is still illegal to criticise religious beliefs is ludicrous. In the US criticising religion may become a criminal offense, however, as the US Constitution demands separation of Church and state this would surely be unconstitutional — however Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania have laws against blasphemy.

In the UK, Blasphemy laws were abolished in 2008.

On the other hand, in 2009 Ireland moved to introduce blasphemy laws stating that “publishing or uttering blasphemous matter” may be punishable of up to €25,000.

In Northern Ireland blasphemy and blasphemous libel are still punishable by law. An amendment to the law was planned in 2009, but this was withdrawn.

“… this is not about any hostility to religion. On the contrary, the problem is that one person’s religion is another person’s blasphemy. The vice in the common law on blasphemy, which has never been used in Northern Ireland, is that it immediately leads to demands by, for example, Muslims that it be extended to their religion-something which has, extraordinarily, been done in the Republic. Thirdly, it is there to protect Christianity, which is regarded as divisive by non-Christians.” — Lord Lester of Herne Hill 5th Nov 2009

So the question now is, in this country, will we be arrested for stating that God is a big doo doo head? Why can we not be rude about a god, a belief system, or indeed simply criticise faith without the fear that we could potentially be arrested for doing so?

I’m not going to post any silly cartoons which may be considered extreme by some fools — we are a serious people — however, I will continue to question why it is that full freedom of expression is not granted to the people of this Island? Both north and south of the political border. We fully and completely condemn such a law which discourages free speech.

“Every great truth begins as a blasphemy.”
– George Bernard Shaw

“Blasphemy is an epithet bestowed by superstition upon common sense”
– Robert Green Ingersoll

Can we also see that those who do believe in God will stand up for the rights of those who do not?

Go now, to love and serve blaspheme to your heart’s content.

Sep 27 12

Giant’s Causeway/Creationism Sparks Creativity: Limericks

by Phil O'Kane

The debacle between the National Trust’s Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre over the inclusion of a creationist exhibit has sparked some creativity in the form of limericks from those fighting to have it removed. Here’s a few of the best so far:

Of the Giants Causeway formation,
an audio exhibit does say,
though their minds are deluded,
some nutjobs concluded
that the debate continues today…

======

The debate of formation is over,
at our Giant’s Causeway,
although they are deluded,
the creationist has concluded,
to ignore evidence to contray…

======

Creationist understanding of science,
is really quite rudimentary.
Despite our groans,
They believe the Flintstones
is a documentary.

======

The National Trust have proven quite crazy,
Their understanding is very hazy,
Instead of just having fact,
They used a theory that’s cracked,
Will they sort it? NO, they’re too lazy.

======

The Caleb creationist Wallace
Does things that can’t fail to appal us.
The Causeway, he says,
Was made in six days,
Which we know is a load of old bollocks.

Sep 24 12

All Things Skeptical — Sunday Summary

by Phil O'Kane

Science

Sep 20 12

QEDcon: Question, Explore, Discover — Tickets on sale today

by Phil O'Kane


Tickets for to QEDcon: Question, Explore, Discover conference in Manchester 13-14 April 2013 — We’ll be there, and we’re very excited!

The line-up so far includes: Stevyn Colgan, Richard Dawkins, Rachael Dunlop, Ben Goldacre, Natalie Haynes, Mark Lynas, Brooke Magnanti, Rose Shapiro, Brian Thompson (JREF) with more to be announced.

Some of us went to the conference in 2011: Conor penned a rather beautiful post titled ‘A letter to QED‘ detailing the events which took place and generally how amazing it was. And amazing, it was.

QED is is a two-day science and skepticism convention taking place at the Mercure Piccadilly Hotel in Manchester on the 13th-14th April 2013. The conference features a diverse set of speakers on a range of topics of general Skepticism and popular science: enriching minds and motivating people.

The event is organised by North West Skeptical Events Ltd on behalf of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and the Greater Manchester Skeptics Society. The nominated charity this year is Good Thinking Society, a fantastic organisation set up to “to encourage curiosity and promote rational thinking”.

We’ll be tweeting and blogging from the event as much as possible. We’ll also be harassing (no not sexually!) as many of the speakers as we can. Also, books will be signed!

Tickets costs £99/£59 it’s set to be great event. Let us know if you’re interested in joining us.
QED Facebook, Twitter, Web.

Sep 17 12

Skeptics in the Pub September Social Event — McHugh’s Bar 26th Sept

by Phil O'Kane

After a break from events and gatherings in the physical realm we’re back this month and we have a lovely new city centre venue!

McHugh’s Bar,
2nd Floor Room,
Queens Square, 7.30pm.

Feels like we’re moving up in the world, a lovely central location and a private room on the 2nd floor which I didn’t even know existed. You could say I was sceptical until I saw it. So grab a beverage and we’ll chat about what’s going on in the world of freethough, and not-so-freethough. From creationism and how it appears to be taking a greater hold on society than ever, let alone their influence within NI politics, integrated education in Northern Ireland, and who in Stormont is in favour of this,

We will also discuss where Belfast Skeptics is heading in this version titled BelfastSkeptics 2.0: Social justice and being a positive source of good. Good without God. Sounds like the title of a talk, though not one I plan to give as such, but something I have thoughts on, and will expand on in a post.

As the anti-theism and rational thinking “movement” gains momentum worldwide, Northern Ireland is still far behind, much like it is on everything else. I learned recently that Northern Ireland is 12 years behind England in terms of arts audiences and participation. Giving it a value changes one’s perspective on the situation. In terms of religious, attitudes it is known that we have a lot of work to do.

Belfast Skeptics in the Pub is a place for those who want change to take place in Northern Ireland; whether it relates to how the politicians deal with banning blood from gay people, how long we have to wait before marriage is equal and opened up to same-sex couples, why are our shops still only open for 5hrs on a Sunday resulting in a ghost-town effect and hindering economic growth and valued tourism, or a whole plethora of aspects of live in Northern Ireland in which it is clear no logic was used whatsoever, certainly not the sort that would ensure that beliefs and ideals of some will be enforced on the masses.

Register your attendance on Facebook.

Poster:
belfast skeptics in the pub september poster