A woman who was denied an abortion during a painful and problematic miscarriage has died at the University Hospital Galway in the Republic of Ireland. Savita Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was admitted to the hospital with severe back pain, and was found to be miscarrying.
The miscarriage was prolonged and excruciatingly painful, and Savita’s family say she requested several times for her pregnancy to be terminated. Savita’s husband Javeen told the Irish Times that her requests were refused because the foetus still had a heartbeat, and “this is a Catholic country.” After three days, the foetal heartbeat stopped. The dead foetus was removed and Savita was transferred to the intensive care unit, where she died of septicaemia on October 28th.
Two investigations into the case are underway: an internal one carried out by the hospital, and an external investigation launched by the Health Service Executive. The Republic of Ireland prohibits abortion except in cases where the mother’s life (not simply her health) are at risk. Ireland’s constitution states that from the point of conception, the ball of cells that makes up an embryo has the full rights of an Irish citizen.
A month ago, we reported on the opening of the first abortion clinic in Northern Ireland. Reader Genevieve Shanahan wrote about the “infuriatingly vague” healthcare provision that sees 5000 women a year travel to the UK for their terminations, where abortion is legal up to 24 weeks. 1992’s “X-case” involved a 14 year old rape victim who attempted to travel to England for an abortion, and was prevented from doing so by the Irish government. This led to widespread protests, both by citizens who did not think the teenager should be interred in Ireland and should be allowed to seek an abortion, and by commentators in the UK who railed at the Irish government for asking British taxpayers to pay for the abortions of desperate Irish women, who should have been cared for in their local hospitals. At last, some discussion was held about abortion rights in Ireland.
Unfortunately, it still seems as though a long time will pass before this horrific situation, which prioritises the heartbeat of a foetus over the life of a woman, is changed. Irish politicians fear backlash from religious conservatives if they even suggest opening the issue of abortion to debate. The supposedly “pro-life” movement in Ireland is active and wealthy, operating a PR campaign that is highly visual in Irish public life. Posters in Dublin declare: “Abortion tears her life apart. There’s always a better answer.” The photos alternate between one of a sad woman and one of a foetus – because they are interchangeable, right?
The first scientific study to show what happens to women who seek abortions and are denied them has just been published. Diana Greene Foster followed “turnaways” for five years and measured how their futures were affected by poverty, violence, drug use, emotions, physical health, and mental health, and compared them to women who were granted terminations. Unsurprisingly for those of us who have always believed a woman should have control over her own body, Foster’s findings show that women who are denied abortions suffered in the long term. They were more likely to be unemployed, on public assistance, and below the poverty line. They were more likely to remain in a relationship with an abusive partner. They experienced more stress and more physical health issues, because giving birth is more dangerous than even a late stage abortion. The women who did have abortions were no more likely to become depressed or mentally ill in another way, and they were no more likely to be using drugs – two misconceptions that are publicised by the anti-choice movement. It’s an extremely important study, which I would highly recommend reading.
Today’s sickening news of Savita Halappanavar’s unnecessary death has reminded us that women who are denied abortions also die. It has only re-emphasised the horror of the incomprehensible view that the heartbeat of an insentient 17 week old foetus that had already been miscarried is more important than the life, achievements, dreams, and potential of a 31 year old woman. A woman died in excruciating pain because of this incessant preaching that cares so deeply about the potential residing in a foetus and thinks nothing of a woman’s life. Unfortunately, this is not a single, freak occurrence–it has happened before, and become international news before. A few months ago, a sixteen-year old leukemia patient in the Dominican Republic died after being denied treatment for her cancer because she was pregnant and chemotherapy could have terminated her pregnancy. How dare the “pro-life” movement name itself thus when they will let a woman die rather than remove her slowly dying foetus from her body before its heart stops?
Written by Abbey Lewis
Follow her on twitter @abbeybabbling