Church influenced birth procedure that ruined women's lives, says report

During the week of the eucharistic congress in Ireland, it would seem the media have to attach another scandal to the church. This procedure - a symphysiotomie - has been used since the 16th century and no doubt saved a lot of babies and mothers at the time, however in the 1940’s Ireland reintroduced and continued to use such barbaric practices until 1980’s, ruining numerous women’s lives. It was covered quite extensively by the media in 2010 and documentaries showed the devastating effect on the women involved. The reasons for Irish hospitals re-introducing this procedure in the '40’s, are now being blamed on the catholic church, as noted in the media articles below.

*A DRAFT report commissioned by the Government into the use of a controversial childbirth operation says one of the reasons it was used was to obey laws influenced by the Catholic Church that banned contraception and sterilisation.

It is estimated up to 1,500 women underwent symphysiotomies – an operation to widen the pelvis – between the mid-1940s and mid-1980s. The procedure has since been linked with lifelong health problems such as incontinence, chronic pain and mobility problems.

A draft report to be published by the Department of Health this week will show use of symphysiotomies was at its peak in Ireland when it had declined in the rest of Europe.*

Symphysiotomy is a surgical procedure in which the cartilage of the pubic symphysis is divided to widen the pelvis allowing childbirth when there is a mechanical problem. It is also known as pelviotomy,[1] synchondrotomy,[1], pubiotomy,[2], and Gigli’s operation after Leonardo Gigli, who invented a saw commonly used in Europe to accomplish the operation.

*Sinn Féin spokesperson on health Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin today called for a full inquiry into symphysiotomy, a practice he described as “a clinical scandal on a par with the clerical scandals we have seen exposed in the past two decades”.

Symphysiotomy is a procedure which involves breaking a woman’s pelvis, resulting in its being permanently widened by up to 3.5 cms. It was used in Ireland between the 1940s and 1990s “as an alternative to caesarean section in cases of obstructed labour”. Symphysiotomies were carried out on about 1,500 women in Ireland between 1944 and 1992. The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say the procedure may give rise to walking difficulties, pelvic joint pain and urinary incontinence in those who undergo it.
*Speaking in the Dáil today, Ó Caoláin said: "Symphysiotomy was the imposition by clinicians in Irish hospitals of a certain Catholic ideology that saw the role of women solely as the bearers of Catholic children, a role to which their bodies and their rights were to be wholly subsumed.


Of course it was all due to the big bad old Catholic Church. Meaning that the procedure was equally common in other majority Catholic countries such as Italy, France and Spain during the relevant period.

And that no women in non-Catholic countries underwent the procedure.

Just some details:
*]why was that needed?
*]why did not the doctors use caesarian?
*]what is the alternative?
*]what were the opposites?
*]what was the whole picture, for bringing a small detail one cannot judge the Church. At least me. For those who are in principle against the Church, it is easy.

I am here in Dublin attending the 50th International Eucharistic Congress.

The opening ceremony brought together people from across Ireland joined by people, like myself, who have traveled here as pilgrims. The universal Catholic Church is here.
Healing is taking place because we are all one body of one Lord. We all need healing in some form as we kneel before our loving and merciful Savior, Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist.

Yes, I also want to know why the pelvis was widened rather than a Caesarean used. And what the relationship is to church or secular laws on contraception and abortion. Sounds like a simple case of Irish doctors favouring this procedure where doctors in other countries no longer did. And that could be for all sorts of non-religious reasons.

I seem to recall that doctors in England and the US quite commonly performed clitoridectomies (female genital mutilations) on women in the late 1800s and early 1900s much more common than in other countries. I suppose we should blame that on Protestant phobias about sexual pleasure or something. :shrug:

Wondering the same thing. Sounds like a brutal procedure, to be sure, but what is the link between facilitating easier passage of a baby and the Church’s condemnation of contraception?? Especially if the procedure was reintroduced in the 1940’s, prior to the advent of available birth control?

I thought the same as yourself until I googled it, seemingly condom use has been sanctified since the 1930’s.

*In 1930 the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference sanctioned the use of birth control by married couples. In 1931 the Federal Council of Churches in the U.S. issued a similar statement.[2]:227 The Roman Catholic Church responded by issuing the encyclical Casti Connubii affirming its opposition to all contraceptives, a stance it has never reversed.[2]:228-9

In the 1930s, legal restrictions on condoms began to be relaxed.[2]:216,226,234[10] But during this period Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany increased restrictions on condoms (limited sales as disease preventatives were still allowed).[2]:252,254-5 During the Depression, condom lines by Schmid gained in popularity. Schmid still used the cement-dipping method of manufacture which had two advantages over the latex variety. Firstly, cement-dipped condoms could be safely used with oil-based lubricants. Secondly, while less comfortable, these older-style rubber condoms could be reused and so were more economical, a valued feature in hard times.[2]:217-9 More attention was brought to quality issues in the 1930s, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began to regulate the quality of condoms sold in the United States.[2]:223-5*

This makes no sense. How does a brutal method of delivering a child have anything to do with contraception? Caesarean births happened in the 1940’s. I don’t get it.:confused:

I think their media spin is, the fact the CC did not allow people to use contraception meant these women got pregnant when they were at risk for having a child. It doesn’t really make any sense.

Ah, so they’re trying to imply that the Church has little concern for women who are prone to high-risk pregnancies :wink: One could easily say that the Church would advise the couple to abstain from relations during her fertile cycle, out of concern for her. I’m with the other posters though, on the Caesarean issue - why didn’t they just perform those?

False argument–the Catholic Church had a particularly strong influence over the Irish government. France was already quite secular during the relevant period. with regard to Spain you have a point.

And that no women in non-Catholic countries underwent the procedure.

It would be interesting to know the facts on that.

I think the idea is that it’s hard to have multiple births via Caesarean. The procedure in question made it possible for women to give birth “normally” and have a large number of children, at the expense of their own health.


I’m not a child birth historian… but wouldn’t childbirth in a hospital be relatively rare in the 1940’s Ireland?

My parents are from Italy were both born at home, my friend also from Italy and her siblings were born at home as well. They were born ranging from the 1930’s (my Dad) to the 1960’s (my friend)

Yes, I would agree with your answer. Doctors recommend a limit to the number of C-sections for women, and many C-sections occur when labour fails to progress. In the “olden” days when contraception wasn’t so widely available, this medical option was obviously seen as a solution to what would have been the norm of having large families as opposed to risking multiple sections. Medical science has thankfully advanced so people like myself with 3 sections under her belt can hope to have more children safely.

True, however how would the catholic church know whether or not this ‘procedure’ was harmful to women until data was available. It only came to the media in Ireland in 2010. The church would have assumed the medical profession carried out this procedure to assist women having multiple births, by using the utmost levels of patient care :rolleyes: - the church did not ‘make up’ the procedure and then impose it on the medical profession.

It’s similar to the way the medical profession thought lobotomies, 10 years previously, were the way to cure mental health issues! If it was unhealthy for women to have more children by caesarean then a catholic couple could have used NFP as a means of contraceptive.

Actually, there is a discussion about symphysiotomy, in Ireland, on TV at present. The reason they were inferring that the CC was involved was because the procedure was carried out in predominantly catholic hospitals in Ireland, the inference being that the CC did not wish women to use ‘family planning’ through sterilisation or cesarean - i.e. a limited number of children. Which makes no sense as the CC promotes NFP.

However the moderator, who stated last night that the CC was involved, has now retracted his statement and said there is NO evidence that this was sanctioned by the church. The discussion has been directed towards the government that has not acknowledged the barbaric practice and recompense for victims.

Except as the article points out, this procedure was no longer used, but Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital continued with it.


I can’t believe that ! I thought it was only in Africa ! Learning everyday…

Is that scientific?

Barbaric practice ?
I know in medicine techniques. The technique was bad. If it was used since the 1600s then it should be “baddest”. I mean there are extremely violent medical techniques today which are perfectly successful and bring no pain.
So, the whole thing is rather strange unless explained thoroughly.

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