Today marks three years since the death of Savita Halappanavar. Savita suffered health complications from a miscarriage at 17 weeks, presented to University Hospital Galway in Ireland for care, and was denied what would have been a life-saving abortion. Savita did not have to die. She was murdered by medical ineptitude, deadly and outdated abortion laws and moral outrage.
A Rally In Dublin In Memory Of Savita Halappanavar (2012) – William Murphy on Flickr
The New Republic published an article today called Let’s Just Say It: Women Matter More Than Fetuses Do. In the article Rebecca Traister talks about her own awareness of abortion as a crucial medical option during her two wanted pregnancies. She puts abortion alongside nuchal screening, amnio, and early Cesarean – that is, one of many tools that may need to come into play during a routine pregnancy. The article did not focus solely on “abortion as medical necessity” – this was simply the opening salvo.
In the article she put words to an old idea that we all know and understand:
“…we need to make it clear that abortions are not about fetuses or embryos. Nor are they about babies, except insofar as they enable women to make sound decisions about if or when to have them. They’re about women: their choices, health, and their own moral value.
Abortions are not about fetuses. Abortions are not about babies.
This will be my sidewalk mantra when I clinic escort. It’s short, sweet and I can scream it as loud as I want (in my mind) when Scary Grandpa tries to lean around me to implore a client to not “kill her baby.”
Traister goes on to say that this idea that women matter more than an unborn human may sound “heartless and baby-hating.” But it shouldn’t. It sounds like common sense to me. Abortions are not about fetuses. Abortions are not about babies.
We should think that people who say that an unborn human matters as much as fully grown human sound heartless and woman-hating (and out of touch with reality and manipulative and cruel and…). But “we” don’t say that. We say that people are entitled to their opinion, their religious beliefs. We say that anti-abortion protesters mean well, and are just standing up for what they believe in. We do say that unborn humans matter as much as fully grown humans. We say this when we depict clinic protesters as kindly looking grandmothers and we bow to their wishes of calling them “sidewalk counselers” in news coverage. We say this when we pass laws that make it hard for women to access abortion. We say this when we detach abortion from routine medical facilities and force it into separate buildings and then impose TRAP laws on these places. We say this when we drag our feet on threats against clinic workers and acts of vandalism at abortion clinics.
We are not willing to come out and say that women matter more than fetuses.
I don’t understand the mentality of the medical staff who could look at Savita Halappanavar while she lay suffering in front of them and possibly think that this living, breathing woman didn’t matter more than the 17-week, non-viable fetus inside of her. No one on her medical team thought that Savita mattered more than her fetus. No one placed her health care first.
Later in Traister’s article she examines the shadowy acceptance of birth control, including abortion, in the early 1900s, and then the steady rise of toxic anti-abortion arguments after Roe v. Wade in 1973:
After Roe was decided in 1973, the varied experiences of mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, friends, and selves suddenly seemed drained of their value. It was as if in gaining rights, not just to abortion, but also to greater professional and economic and sexual opportunity, women lost any claim to morality—a morality that had, perhaps, been imaginatively tied to their exclusively reproductive identities.
What rose up instead was a new character, less threatening than the empowered woman: the baby, who, by virtue of not actually existing as a formed human being, could be invested with all the qualities—purity, defenselessness, dependence—that women used to embody, before they became free and disruptive.
Again, we know that abortion has never had anything to with fetuses. Abortion has never had anything to do with babies. We’ve always known that.
On this October 28th, 2015 I remember Savita Halappanavar and her family and their great loss.
Also on Freethoughtblogs see Aoife’s article Three years on: My country still kills women.