My country kills women.

I woke up this morning in a hostel in Glasgow. The phone was ringing. Sleepy passing the phone to my partner, burying my head in a pillow while she talked. We’d slept through breakfast time. She went downstairs to meet a friend across the road for tea. Failing to get back to sleep and not wanting to leave my duvet, I propped myself up to check my phone.

I have never felt so disgusted by my state as I am today. That is, by the way, a big statement. I come from a land of Magdalen laundries and cover-ups by supposed moral authorities of child abusers. Funding cuts to the most vulnerable while the people who got us into this mess get off free and disabled people and immigrants are scapegoated. These realities become callouses. It takes a lot to be shocked.

I spent the last week of October visiting my family. Catching up with my cousin after her honeymoon. Calling over to friends from back home. Dinners with family and friends, full of that wonderful bustling laughter and warmth of sharing with the people you love.

While I was passing the potatoes and poking around the kitchen for a bottle of wine, a few hours drive away Savita Halappanavar was dying.

Savita did not need to die.

She was pregnant. On 21st October, she went to hospital suffering from severe back pain. She was suffering a miscarriage. 21st October was the Sunday just after the Trans* Rally for Recognition. A lazy day at home for me, recovering from the week before. According to my journal I spent the afternoon on the sofa watching One Born Every Minute. Ironic, that I would watch a show about giving birth in the UK as a woman in Ireland was about to find out what happens here when pregnancy goes wrong.

Savita was having a miscarriage, but her foetus still had a heartbeat. She asked for the foetus to be removed, to bring this ordeal to an end. She was refused. She was in agonising pain. Ireland is a Catholic country. She asked again. She was refused. She asked again. She was refused.

It took three days for the foetal heartbeat to stop. Three days of unrelenting agony. Until Wednesday. Once the heartbeat stopped, her foetus was removed. Wednesday, by the way, when I was complaining about sitting next to a rather stinky loo on the bus down to Cork, after spending the morning sating a craving for Alpen. In the meantime, Savita had developed septicaemia- almost certainly caused by those three days with her cervix fully dilated and nothing to protect her from the outside world. She was taken to intensive care. On Saturday night- when I was kicking the cat out of my room so I could get some damn sleep- she died.

She was 31.

This isn’t far away. This isn’t a long time ago. This is here and this is now. This is hours or minutes away from our everyday lives. This is what Ireland is. We are a country that forces women to die preventable deaths in agony. We are a country that calls this ‘pro-life’.

I’m writing this from a cafe in Glasgow. Tomorrow morning I’ll fly home to Ireland. The flight over here took about 40 minutes. Forty short minutes that are the difference between life and death. If Savita had walked into a hospital here she would still be alive. Because she was a few hundred kilometers southwest, she died.

I don’t want to say that we must all be Savita. We’re not. We’re alive and she’s dead. But it’s about time that every single one of us became her friend. Became her family. Stood in solidarity and grief beside those who loved her. Beside her husband and her family and everyone who loved her and now has to wake every day knowing that, in the name of life, we took hers away. It’s high time we make sure that every one of our voices is heard and that what is heard is NO. We will not stand idly by while this happens. We will not allow our politicians to hide and put off legislation for decades while women die.

We need to take back the moral high ground. Need to wrench it back from every sneering ‘pro-lifer’ who says that abortion is never necessary to save a life. Need to stop talking about abortion as if it were a necessary evil and remember that a few weeks ago abortion would have been the absolute unquestionable right thing to do. We need to always, always remember that these are the people who hear a woman in agony begging for her pain to be taken away and say no. These are the people who leave a woman to hurt and die and refuse to make it stop. The next time that someone tells you that you are a murderer for supporting a women’s right to choose, remember this. Remember Savita.

Savita died an unnecessary, horrible death. Let us take that death and our grief and shame and let us stop this. She cannot have died in vain. Let us make sure that this never happens again and let us make sure that Savita’s name is never forgotten.

My country kills women.

26 thoughts on “My country kills women.

  1. 1

    The death of Savita Halappanavar should provoke outrage in anyone truly concerned about the health of women.

    Hopefully the investigation will shed some light on why Mrs. Halappanavar was refused treatment for miscarriage, when this treatment is regularly administered in this country, and is allowed for by the law and by the Medical Council.

    The treatment she needed was legal, so there is no question that a change in the law is what is needed here. It is medical negligence that she was not treated urgently.

    In cases where the fetus is still alive, the Medical Council in part 21.4 of its guidelines for medical doctors states that treatment is allowed even if “there is little of no hope of the baby surviving”.

    The treatment that Mrs. Halappanavar should have received is legal in this country. In fact, it is standard medical procedure in cases like hers. That she wasn’t treated is a failure of the hospital and medical team, not a problem with the law.

    I suspect that the medical council will strike off one or more people because of this and rightly so.

    The greatest thing we can do to honour Savita’s life is to insist on obstetric excellence – that is what saves women’s lives, not abortion.

    1. 1.1

      The X Case was never legislated for. Doctors operate in a legal limbo in cases like this. What Savita needed- what Savite begged for- was an abortion.

      Don’t lie and say that that was not what she needed. An abortion would have saved her life.

      1. Maybe Its just that my definition of it is inaccurate. But if the kid’s dead by miscarriage, is that really an abortion?

        See I’m one of those “sneering pro-lifers” and I don’t think it is. Or that it honestly should be considered one.

        1. It was considered an abortion because, although Savita was miscarrying and there was nothing that could be done about that, the fetus still had a heartbeat. According to our laws, doing anything to speed up that miscarriage would have counted as an abortion. Which isn’t allowed here. Which is why Savita died. Once the heartbeat had stopped, they could intervene, but then it was far too late to save her.

    2. 1.2

      Sarah Carroll:
      You’re mistaking your terminology. Pre-term labor and miscarriage are not the same thing. Pre-term labor may possibly be slowed or stopped, though this is generally only successful after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

      But Savita was diagnosed as having a miscarriage. Her cervix was fully dilated, her water had broken, and her uterus was contracting. THERE WAS NO TREATMENT, LEGAL OR OTHERWISE, that could stop the fetus from exiting her womb one way or another, and at 17 weeks of pregnancy there was no chance of its survival. What could have saved her life was medical induction of stronger contractions to make her uterus expel the fetus faster, once the diagnosis of miscarriage was confirmed, so her body could do what women’s bodies do after any birth: contract the uterus down to its pre-pregnancy size and close the cervix.

      But because the fetus’ heart was still beating, she was forced to wait, with her cervix open to infection and a uterus that was not able to contract sufficiently to expel a non-viable fetus and get on with the business of healing.

      If she had been 26 weeks along, they would have induced or performed an emergency cesarean because the fetus would have a greater chance of survival in neonatal intensive care than going through a prolonged labor.

      If she had been 37 weeks along, they would have induced or performed an emergency cesarean once her water had been broken for 24 hours because the mother and fetus would have been at risk for septicemia. SEPTICEMIA.

      But because she was 17 weeks along, because she was most certainly going to deliver a fetus that was NOT considered viable… they were unable UNDER LAW to induce and save her life.

      (Pardon my American spelling of medical terms.)

  2. 3

    As aoife has said doctors are in a legal limbo. There is no legislation to cover this and make it very clear what doctors can and can’t do. Legislation for abortion would have allowed a woman in this situation to have a termination and most likely her life would have been saved. Simple as that. Our government have failed for far too long to legislate for X. How many more women have to die?

  3. 4

    Sarah Carroll, you’re trying very hard to obscure the facts here.
    There is only one reason why Savita did not receive the correct treatment in Galway last month: Ireland’s draconian and inhumane abortion laws.
    There is very much a problem with the law here: women suffer and die because of it.

  4. 5

    @ Sarah: While the X case ruling stated that a woman is entitled to have an abortion if her life is in danger, the successive Governments have repeatedly failed to legislate for it; instead choosing to have 3 referenda and several commissions and reports. The medical profession is in a complete legal quagmire here, because there is *no* set legislation in place to back up the Supreme Court ruling in X. The doctors hands were tied.

    There’s a good article from a few months back here: Plenty of more out there too.

    FYI, I have very mixed feelings on abortion. I’d probably be considered more on the ‘pro-life’ side. But this woman’s life was clearly in danger. Even worse, she was having an inevitable miscarriage. Her baby had no chance of survival. She was forced to wait until the foetal heartbeat stopped naturally, and by then it was too late for her.

    Legislation for the X Case is not a free-for-all abortion license for Ireland. It’s to provide for women like Savita whose lives are in danger.

  5. 6

    It’s murky at best and a falsehood at worset to claim she could have had the treatment under the current law. It’s far too unclear and is, as Aoife says, a limbo zone. A change in the law *is* needed – at the *absolute minimum* to make it an explicitly legal procedure.

  6. 12

    That was an excellent line “these realities become callouses”.

    It was a horrific horrific unnecessary torture of a woman, allowed by yes, undoubtedly pedophile, priests and THEIR religion. God bless her.

    Extremely well written.

  7. 13

    […] “This isn’t far away. This isn’t a long time ago. This is here and this is now. This is hours or minutes away from our everyday lives. This is what Ireland is. We are a country that forces women to die preventable deaths in agony. We are a country that calls this ‘pro-life’.” My country kills women – Consider the Tea Cosy […]

  8. 19

    […] the international spotlight last week. Because, not to put even remotely too fine a point on it, Ireland killed a woman. This news made me feel physically sick. This happened so appallingly close to home that for a […]

  9. 20

    […] This is precisely what Irish people have voted for in multiple referenda. What the Supreme Court has ruled. What should have been the law of the land for the past two decades. We are not talking about the dreaded “abortion on demand”- or, as I like to call it, “medical care at the discretion of the person who needs it and their doctor”. Doctors for Choice were looking for nothing more than regulations guaranteeing that women who will not survive without abortions are not forced to either travel overseas or die. […]

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