Imagine having your pelvis split in two with a hacksaw. No warning, just cutting.
Now imagine that at the same time you are in labor, struggling to give birth.
I’ve never been there myself, but I’m thinking that trying to push down in your pelvic area over a broken bone makes things even harder than usual. This is why this procedure, symphysiotomy, “should be carried out only in combination with vacuum extraction [i.e. abortion].”
1,500 women in Ireland suffered symphysiotomies without their consent in the 1940′s through the early 1980′s, according to Irish Times. But of course, abortion was (and remains) illegal in Ireland, so they were forced to go through labor and give birth despite their broken pelvises.
One woman remembers being “held down.” Another said that some of the nurses got “physically sick” as her “blood spurted up like a fountain.” A third called her doctors “torturers.” “They didn’t care,” she said. “I was a thing. An experiment.”
About 150 of these women are still alive, and they want justice.
They still suffer from the consequences of the procedure. Even decades later, women in their 70′s and 80′s limp or are confined to wheelchairs. They have chronic back pain and incontinence. As one victim put it, “we are all cripples.”
The symphysiotomy patients have banded together to form Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS). The “group claims that the operations were carried out without prior knowledge or consent ‘mainly for religious reasons, by obstetricians who were opposed to family planning.’”
According to SOS, doctors performed symphysiotomies instead of cesarean sections to avoid limiting the number of babies a woman could have. SOS “says that as women could have no more than around four cesareans, so doctors effectively saw them as birth control – a way of capping the family size,” Irish Health reports. They disfavored cesareans because they wanted women to have more than four children each.
The medical establishment, government and Catholic church viewed women as brood mares whose primary purpose was to produce children, regardless of the effect on their own health. A woman who worked as a midwife in Dublin hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s said, “the big thing was to have children even if you dropped dead.”
This attitude still prevails today in Ireland as evidenced by the tragic and entirely avoidable death of Savita Halappanavar. Savita died of complications after the hospital refused to abort her already doomed fetus.
“The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has offered its ‘unreserved sympathy’ to women who suffered complications [from] the controversial obstetric procedure symphysiotomy performed on many women in Ireland,” according to Irish Health.
The Irish Department of Health issued a draft report which noted that “symphysiotomy use was at its peak in Ireland when it was in decline in other developed countries,” apparently at least in part “to obey laws influenced by the Catholic Church that banned contraception and sterilization” even for women who had trouble giving birth.
Symphysiotomies are now rare in the developed world, though they are still used elsewhere together with vacuum extraction when C-sections aren’t available and the mother’s health is in danger. The procedure involves sawing through the ligaments hinging the pelvis together to increase the bone’s diameter.
SOS is leading a charge to get recognition and compensation from the Irish government for the violation of their bodies and their subsequent pain and suffering. The problem is that the deadline to bring their claims has passed.