Maternity care during Covid: state misogyny continues

By Emma Quinn

An outpouring of anger and frustration has erupted again in light of the release of the third series of “The Rotunda” on RTE. Filming of the docuseries coincided with strict restrictions on maternity services. The reality of maternity care in 2021 was pain and anguish for the thousands of people who had to attend antenatal and emergency appointments, and experience labouring and caring for newborns alone. 

Partners sit in cars, government sit on their hands

A combination of long-term underfunding of maternity services and backward misogynistic attitudes to every aspect of women’s health and sexuality by the Irish state has contributed to the dangerous crisis situation pregnant people and their families now find themselves in. 

  • Since June at least one in ten Covid patients in ICU were pregnant. 
  • According to the Rotunda, only 40% of pregnant patients are vaccinated (compared to 91% of the general population). 
  • Strict restrictions on partner access throughout the pandemic has resulted in thousands of people experiencing pregnancy related traumas alone and has deprived pregnant people of essential support and even advocacy during and after birth.

Government priorities 

Throughout the pandemic the government has remained laser-focused on the reopening of business and related issues, with maternity care a clear afterthought. Even now that 22 October has become a deadline for the lifting of remaining restrictions in society, there is no commitment to lifting restrictions in hospitals. 

Government abandonment of the public maternity system is not a recent development. The Master of the Rotunda, Prof. Fergal Malone, said a key reason for ongoing restrictions was due to “a cramped, outdated building”, and as far back as 2015 a health watchdog reported that the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street was “dirty and chronically overcrowded – exposing newborn babies to a serious risk of infection”.

Everyone knows the Irish state has a horrendous record in regards to pregnant women, from Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes, to symphisiotomy and archaic abortion laws. Yet minimal effort has been made to engage and deal with understandable concerns around maternal healthcare in a global pandemic, or crucially, vaccination during pregnancy. 

Instead the government has adopted its typical arrogant and out-of-touch approach having no issue with the Sisters Of Charity maintaining ownership of the site for the long-awaited new National Maternity Hospital, and even attempting to blame patients themselves for restrictions. 

Urgent action

The farce continued last weekend when despite the dangerously low vaccination uptake and increasing hospitalisations, confusion around updated guidelines resulted in many pregnant people being turned away from vaccine centres.

Now urgent action must be taken to fund an information campaign that explains the vital benefits of vaccination and to provide rapid testing for patients and their partners.

The pandemic has deepened every inequality women experience, maternity care included, with class and race also being key determinants to quality of care. Around the world a pregnant person or newborn dies every 11 seconds – this is a totally unnecessary human tragedy and an utter indictment of the patriarchal capitalist system.