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.