This will not be a nice post. Consider yourself warned.
By now, you’ve heard about the death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar.
He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.
This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.
She should have known better. Sure, she’s not Catholic herself, but that doesn’t mean she gets to be special and be exempt from the sin of Eve.
“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.
Of course she was in agony. “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.” Why would anyone, much less the devout, think a woman should experience anything else? That is her role, handed down by God.
“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.
“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”
No, they couldn’t. If they couldn’t do it during the prior two days of labor, with her cervix wide open to infection and bits of dead tissue just sitting around to incubate it, why could they do it now? Sure, she had a completely predictable infection, one of the leading causes of death in hospitals, but there was still life inside her. It’s that life, always that life, doomed, parasitic, dangerous as it may be, that is the only important consideration.
At lunchtime the foetal heart had stopped and Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”
Yes, then and only then did Savita become a patient again, a person in her own right. It was too late by then but, well, you know, she hadn’t done a very good job of either staying pregnant or stopping being pregnant. Either one would have fixed the problem. As it was, what could anyone do?
They could have fucking saved her life immediately is what they could have done. They could have treated her as the human being she was. They could have recognized her independent right to life and health that exists to the same degree as the rights of everyone who isn’t pregnant.
This wasn’t a tragedy. It was a travesty, and it was predictable in every respect from start to finish. All that crap up there about the “reasoning” behind watching Savita die in pain? That is exactly the reasoning that makes this shit happen. It wasn’t what anyone was saying as they all sat around and shrugged at each other and made sad eyes at Savita and her husband. It probably wasn’t even anything they allowed themselves to think, but it was the basis for every one of those actions.
Every time we point at those “pro-life” arguments that leave the pregnant woman (“woman” meaning at least pubertal and biologically female here) entirely out of the equation. Every time we snarl at those people saying, “Well, if you didn’t want to be pregnant…”. Every time we deny that anyone else has a right to make these decisions for women. Every. Single. Time. This is what we’re fighting.
We are not baby-making machines. We carry, many of us, baby-making machinery around inside of us, but just as with our hands and our brains and our mouths, what we do with it is up to us. Given this machinery’s massive effects on our health, it is even more up to us what we do with it. No god gets to compete with that. No potential for a cute little baby gets to compete with that. No man’s desire for legacy gets to compete with that.
Even if they did compete, directly and honestly, they’d lose. As long as they allow the pregnant woman to be a consideration, they lose the argument. They lose because then the argument looks as inhumane and appalling as what I posted above. It looks as inhumane and appalling as it really is.
Is Savita’s situation extreme? Yes and no. This kind of miscarriage isn’t the most common, but it happens plenty. That fetal heartbeat requirement will kill more women if it continues to be applied.
So will just about any policy short of abortion on demand. Women will die of medical complications they didn’t need to. They will stay with partners who abuse them. They will experience more stress and more poverty, which shorten lives, sometimes drastically. They will, of course, die of illegal abortions if they must.
As horrific as what happened to Savita in that hospital is, it is extreme only in that the consequences of denying abortion followed so quickly on the heels of the denial. It isn’t unusual in the size of the consequence. It isn’t unusual in that the argument in favor requires pretending that the woman involved doesn’t exist except as an incubator.
In short, what happened in Ireland is exactly the consequences we can expect where pro-life arguments hold sway.
Update: If you want to do something to help women circumvent Irish abortion law, the Abortion Support Network provides travel funds. It wouldn’t have helped Savita, as she was too ill to travel, but if you want to help someone else, donate here.
Update II: Brianne has found a site tracking political actions to make sure this does not happen again.