Three years on from Savita Halappanavar’s death: My country still kills women.

Savita Halappanavar died three years ago today. She died of septicaemia. She died from a drawn-out miscarriage that went untreated too long. She died after spending a week in hospital.

A picture of a paper tealight-holder on a table with some papers. Printed on the holder is a young woman's face (Savita Halappanavar), and the words "Never Again"

Savita may have died of blood poisoning, but she was killed by the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. Two decades of Irish governments have blood on their hands. They were too cowardly to legislate to protect pregnant people’s lives.

Three years ago, I wrote that my country kills women:

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.

The Eighth Amendment has not been repealed. Our grief and our shame have barely changed a thing. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act that we fought tooth and nail for? Was nothing more than a band-aid. We knew that, of course. We may not leave women to die preventable deaths- although the terms of the PLDPA don’t necessarily prevent that. We mightn’t do that anymore.

Instead? We take a woman who has been raped and whose pregnancy made her suicidal. When she asks for an abortion- accessible under the grounds of the PLDPA- we choose another route to preserve her life. We lock her up. Force-feed her. And when her pregnancy has reached viability, we cut open her body without her consent to remove it. We call her Miss Y.

And when a pregnant woman has already died? We don’t stop there:

December 26th marked a High Court ruling on the case of a brain-dead woman who has been kept on life somatic support since her death on December 3rd. She has been kept breathing, despite the unanimous wishes of her partner and family, because at the time of her death she was ~14 weeks pregnant, and Ireland’s constitution demands that the right to life of a foetus must be protected. Because of this constitutional provision- which I’ll go into in more detail in a moment, don’t you worry- none of her doctors would allow her life support to be turned off. Her family- including her two young children- have been forced to watch as the condition of her still-breathing corpse deteriorated grotesquely, waiting for the High Court to deliberate and make its decision.

It’s a hell of a way to spend Christmas.

On the morning after, though, the High Court ruled in favour of the woman being taken off somatic support. At face value this is a positive thing. It allows the woman to finally have some kind of dignity in her death, and for her family to begin to grieve her and move on. They’re not stuck with grotesque daily updates on the deteriorating condition of her body and the foetus inside it.

It looks positive- in as much as you can use a word like that in a situation like this- unless you actually read the High Court ruling.

In a country where from the instant of conception a pregnant person’s life is equated with the fertilised egg implanted within them, if you die pregnant then neither you (if you can state your wishes) nor your next of kin (if you cannot) nor your doctors have any say over what happens to your body after your death. It’s predetermined. Before sixteen weeks, the machine is turned off. After that, it’s kept on. Regardless of your wishes, for weeks on end, until either your foetus is delivered or your body degrades past the point where we can use it.

This law is grotesque.

Picture of a woman standing on a street in the dark. She's wearing a coat, hat and gloves. She's holding a sign saying "Ireland is NOT a Catholic country"

Irish women are incubators. Nothing more.

My country still, of course, forces pregnant people overseas for any abortion not immediately necessary to save their life. Twelve every day. If you can’t travel? Try buying medical abortion pills online. Hope that you’re lucky enough to get them through the post without being seized. And if you’re caught? Fourteen years. And as for non-citizens? This part hasn’t changed one bit:

I’m sitting drinking tea and eating overpriced breakfast in Prestwick airport. Lady Gaga is playing on speaker somewhere. It’s 5.40am.

I didn’t sleep tonight. Did you? I couldn’t. Not just because I knew I had to get up before 4am, or the loud drunk people in the hostel room next door, or because I’d just said goodbye to the Ladyfriend until the next visit and the bed felt terribly cold and lonesome. I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking of Savita. And I couldn’t stop thinking of all the Irish women lying awake tonight for early morning flights to the UK, while thousands around the country mourn and rage. I wonder how that feels. I hope that today of all days, they know that Ireland is waking up to the love and compassion it’s been hiding all these years.

…Savita’s choice was denied her because by the time she made it she was in an Irish hospital with doctors who chose, for some reason, to inform her that she was “in a Catholic country”. Catholic countries have no compassion for dying women. But did she have a choice to start with?

Irish women, we have choice. Those of us who can afford it, at least. We can take our early-morning flights and make our escape. Many migrant women don’t have that choice, can live in Ireland for years knowing that if they need to leave, they can’t. I wonder how that feels. Knowing that life in the home you’ve made for yourself is a Russian roulette if you don’t want to be pregnant. Or if you’re pregnant and have a non viable fetus. Or if you’re pregnant and have cancer, or anything else short of the immediate threat of dying. Or even that. Knowing that as you lie dying, your doctor might just tell you where you live and leave. Leave, while you cannot.

Our country says that to migrant women. They made their beds, we say, as we force them to lie in them even to the death.

We owe Savita. We owe her her life back. We can’t repay that, but we can change the Constitution that killed her. We owe it to Miss X, Miss Y, Miss D, A, B, and C. To every other nameless letter. To Tara, Janet, Roisin, Helen, and everyone else who’s shared their story so that others don’t feel so alone.

For the 150,000 people who have travelled for abortions and every single one who couldn’t afford to. So I don’t have to post this again in three more years. And always, always for Savita. Repeal the Eighth.

A gloved hand holds up a sign saying "Am I NeXt?"

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Three years on from Savita Halappanavar’s death: My country still kills women.

6 thoughts on “Three years on from Savita Halappanavar’s death: My country still kills women.

    1. 1.1

      And there are MANY things I could say about how those USian people work their asses off to raise money for anti-choice campaigns in Ireland.

      Allegedly, that is. Since the anti-choice orgs (which just so happen to share an awful lot of features with their USian counterparts) refuse to disclose where their money comes from.

  1. 2

    The entirely preventable death of Savita was the catalyst for my unconditional support for pregnant people to be able to have access to affordable abortion procedures if they desire at any point in their pregnancies. I do not support any restrictions on abortion, bc any denial of a pregnant person to have control over their body is denial of their bodily autonomy.

  2. 4

    And the thing that makes that especially revolting?

    I would have at least a *little* sympathy for the people who want to ban abortion if it *actually made a substantive difference in abortion rates*, but afaik it doesn’t. For the most part, making abortion illegal just makes it harder and more dangerous for women to *obtain* abortions, it doesn’t prevent people from opting to end their pregnancies.

    I read an article t’other day that was from abortion doctors from before and shortly after Roe v Wade (the court decision that made abortion legal throughout the entire US, basically without restrictions for the first trimester). One story referenced (from before Roe v Wade) was a woman who was denied an abortion, went home, *shot herself in the uterus*, then went back to the hospital. Nobody won there.

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