Women’s Pelvises Sawed in Half During Labor

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.

Sign the petition below to add your voice to the symphysiotomy victims’ call for an extension of the deadline for them to receive justice for the wrongs against them.


Related Stories:

Woman Dies After Hospital Refuses Her an Abortion

Irish Government Defeats “Woman’s Life At Risk” Abortion Bill

European Court Orders Ireland to Modify Abortion Laws



Andrew C.
Andrew C.4 years ago

Another horror story from Catholic Ireland that makes the Talaban look civilised

Victims: Young , probably poor defenceless women

The culprits: Religous elders, medics and politicians who participated in this barbarism or looked the other way. People who considered themselves moral and upright and were supposed to be caring for the poor and vulnerable and completely failing in their duty and doing the devils work rather than Gods work

Many of the culprits are probably still alive. In the same way as after the holocaust in WW2, a full, independent and open investigation is needed and the culprits hunted down, tried and punished. I would support the death penalty for these crimes.

PS I wonder how many of these people supported the IRAs barbaric boming campaign or complained about the behaviour of the British in Northern Ireland. I wonder how many young womens lives have been saved by the fact that northern Ireland is British and a refuge from these monsters.

Some of the culprits

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

wow. sadistic torture, much?

K A W.
K W5 years ago

Sadistic and horrible.

Lisa Marie C.
Lisa C5 years ago

I never realised that life in Ireland was so barbaric!! I can't imagine how ANY doctor could inflict such cruelty on a patient especially for some religous belief. Horrendous!!

Steffanie B.
Steffanie Byrnes5 years ago

How is the USA any better. I was young and poor when I had my first two children. I was given medication to make my contractions during delivery stronger and painful. I was denied an epidural, and was in agony for the entire delivery. Nurses and doctors could care less about their patients and were rude and callous. I was told that maybe I should learn to keep my legs closed. I was made fun of and heard the nurses making fun of other patients. My last child, he was breech. The doctor told me I needed a C-section. I wanted to be sedated. I was denied and guilt tripped in being awake. I felt the doctor cut into my uterus and it hurt worse than anything I have ever experienced. Fast forward 12 years later, and now I have scar tissue develop and live in constant pain. How are doctors that deny pain relief to their patients and treat them without dignity or humanity any different than barbarians that sawed these poor women in half!? Maybe we should look at our own absmal health care in America before we judge other health care practices.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marcia Anne D.

Did it evert occur to these idiot "doctors" that the Catholic church is also opposed to deliberate mutilation of any kind, so how do they justify this? Shame on these doctors and whoever stood idle while this was going on! Who gave tham the right to play God? Needless to say, I both signed AND shared the petition!

Deni Gereighty
Den Gereighty5 years ago

as an RN who worked labor and delivery for over 15 years and saw many, many complications and many rare anomalies of pregnancy, I am horrified to learn of this hideous practice. There are other ways to birth a large baby; even in an obstructed shoulder, we pop the shoulder blade of the infant and deliver her. on rare occasion of a double footling breech vaginal delivery due to premature labor and precipitous partial delivery, when the head got stuck and the body was out, the CERVIX was cut to deliver the baby and then repaired surgically. I have worked in very poor areas and in an army hospital and never has such a thing even been considered. It would indeed leave the women in agony and permanently disabled; not in any shape to care for their baby or undergo another pregnancy. It is unconsionable that a doctor would do this for alleged religious reasons. it is nothing less than unending torture for the woman and the stress hormones released would harm the newborn also. Absolutely the Irish government needs to make a formal public apology and pay serious restitution to the women and their families in the case of deceased women. this is not any way 'saving' a woman for continued childbearing. Not only should women always have a choice, but i suspect most of these women did not and could not carry future pregnancies to live, viable births. Who would want to? Continuous torture is hardly a way to encourage more children. This is a mental and physical slavery to men's idea that wo

Carla van der Meer

This is one of the most vile and horrific things I've ever heard. These aren't doctors, they sadistic puppets of the Catholic church.. how do churches condone treating half their members as nothing more than cattle. Time and time again one hears stories of women's lives being sacrificed to save their fetus. It should be up to the woman in question to make lifesaving or life altering decisions, not a doctor, a church pr a government.

Carolyn S.
Carolyn S5 years ago

We women in the U.S. are going to be second-class citizens if we ever get a Republican President. We would be subject to the same thing since there is a conservative movement against birth control.