A symphysiotomy is a painful surgical procedure that was used in maternity hospitals across Ireland in the 20th century. Often performed in the place of a Caesarean section, symphysiotomies involved breaking the woman’s pelvis during childbirth.
Victims contend the procedure was often carried out for religious rather than medical reasons, in order to prevent women needing repeated future caesareans and therefore wanting to use birth control.
According to the Journal.ie, The Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) group claim that the operations, which had profound and life altering effects on each woman, were carried out without prior knowledge or consent 'mainly for religious reasons, by obstetricians who were opposed to family planning.'
Other problems associated with the procedure include chronic lifelong back pain and incontinence.
At a recent gathering of women who had the procedure performed against their knowledge, 86-year-old Rita McCann said, 'I came on the Luas (Dublin tram) and I didn’t know if the cinema was on this side or the other. Then I spotted two women and said, 'I’m sure they are heading for it.' When you see the limps going you get the message.'
Limping is a common ailment in women who have suffered through the procedure. Between 100 and 150 survivors travelled to Dublin this week for the first screening of a documentary examining the barbaric practice, which it compares to methods used in Kenyan hospitals today. Ireland was one of the last countries in Europe to ban the practice.
Claire Kavanagh, another survivor, said: 'Put fifty of us in a room and you’ll get different stories but the same ending. We are all cripples.'
Irish broadcaster Marian Finucane introduced the film, and documentary maker Ronan Tynan told the audience that he was more affected by the survivors’ stories than he was when meeting victims of other types of torture around the world.
'We learned more about Ireland in Kenya than we set out to,' he explained.
The makers of Mothers Against the Odds had originally proposed to examine the experiences of pregnant women in Kenya but then they 'opened their eyes to the virtually hidden histories of a number of Irish mothers, who were forced to endure a level of cruelty, up to recent times, that was both shocking and incomprehensible.'