Monday’s Cork Pro-Choice Meeting Part Two: Discussion

As promised, some kittens before we start. Trust me, you’ll need ’em. Part one of my recap of the meeting is here.




Before the discussion began, speakers reiterated meeting guidelines, code of conduct, and that this was a pro-choice meeting, not a meeting to debate whether or not abortion should be legal. Commenters were asked to keep questions relatively brief, on-topic and to-the-point.

The first comment, from someone who seemed not to have been listening, was from a man from a group called Parents for Justice. He began with the accusation that every organ from aborted babies is sold to paracetamol companies, and asked Dr Favier to account for this. He went on to accuse abortion doctors of being murderers and saying that there was no such thing as an ‘ordinary’ pro-choice person, before becoming loud and aggressive toward the speakers and having to be ejected from the meeting.

Next to speak was Joe Moore. He pointed out that abortion is a woman’s right to choose, and is also a class issue. Asylum seeker women legally can’t leave the state at all. He told a story of how he was once contacted by an asylum seeker woman bleeding heavily as a result of a botched abortion. He was able to get her the medical assistance she needed, but shouldn’t she have had the right to access safe abortion services here?

“How many people need to hit the streets for Praveen Halappanavar to get an inquiry into his wife’s death? And what part did racism play in Savita’s doctor pointing out to an Indian couple that Ireland is a Catholic country?”

The next speaker was a woman who had come to the meeting with her 5-month-old baby. She said that she herself was a midwife and a mother, and went on to state that everyone in the room was disgusting. She asked the speakers when they draw the line between calling killing a baby abortion and calling it murder? Where is the line? Clare Daly responded by stating that abortions should take place as early as possible and as late as necessary.

Another person had a question for Dr Favier. Are there backstreet abortions in Cork? Hoe many? Dr Favier responded that, while she herself was unaware of any backstreet abortions in Ireland, the only reason for this was the proximity of the UK.

Next, another pro-life person. He stated that while a woman has a right to live in the Constitution, we voted just this year for children to have a voice too. You should neither murder a mother to save a baby, nor a baby to save a mother. Dr Favier, again, answered by stating that a woman’s life must always take priority. We must always save her life.

Paul McAndrew spoke next, pointing out that we had agreed earlier to respect women who have had abortions. Describing these women as murderers is not respectful. He went on to add that these terms were similar to those which have been used against him as an openly gay man. This kind of bullying language cannot be condoned.

Another anti-abortion man spoke next. He did not appear to have a relevant question for the speakers, but stated that Irish destiny lay in its future citizens before accusing the speakers of not attending Mass.

“You do not know the person who has had an abortion. You do not know why they had an abortion. You do not know their history. And it is none of your business.”

Someone had a question for Dr Favier. Women in Ireland are buying medical abortion pills online. How many do this? Can you advise on how to take these in an appropriate and safe manner? Dr Favier’s response was that there is no data on how many do this, but that large amounts of abortificant medications are seized coming into Ireland. While she understands why a woman would do this, Doctors for Choice cannot encourage women to take medical abortions illegally without medical supervision. Continuing, she made the point that many of these women, if they experience complications, will not say what had happened because of experiencing hostility and judgement in A&E. According to her own anecdotal evidence, non-Irish doctors working in A&E are often far more empathetic and understanding towards women suffering from abortion complications.

At this stage, it was almost 10pm and there was only time for one more comment. The woman who spoke told her story of how, 45 years ago after she had had her first baby, she had to travel all the way to Waterford to get a prescription for the Pill. She described searching Cork city for a pharmacy that would sell the Pill, and how shamed and judged she felt every time she picked up her prescription. Although Ireland still has a long way to go, at least we’ve come a long way in the past 45 years.

Monday’s Cork Pro-Choice Meeting Part Two: Discussion

Irish Choice Network open meeting

This Saturday I joined over 200 pro-choice activists from around the country for the first (of many) planning meeting of the Irish Choice Network. The ICN is a newly-formed campaign giving Ireland’s pro-choice activists and groups a space to work together to bring about safe and legal abortion in Ireland. Over the course of the meeting, we discussed how we got to where we are today, where we want to be, and how we’re going to get there.

The meeting began with opening remarks from Ailbhe Smyth. Smyth spoke of the generations of women left waiting for legislation- her generation, their daughters and now granddaughters- and how pro-choice activists have been pushed aside and shamed time and again. But we are in a space now where things can change. We have the benefit of seasoned activists with experience of many abortion campaigns as well as a new generation of women for whom the word ‘abortion’ is not scary and who understand the normality of women who terminate their pregnancies. We have the opportunity right now, she continued, to create a national, broad based and serious campaign to achieve abortion legislation in Ireland. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon. And we start here.

Never Again

“In the supposed safest country in the world to give birth, how did Savita lose her life?”

Next to speak was Sinead Kennedy with a history of anti-abortion laws in Ireland. Did you know that the Offences Against The Persons Act banning abortion in Ireland dates from 1861? Or that it was the same act that was used to prosecute Oscar Wilde for homosexuality in 1895? This is the law that governs women’s bodies in 2012. But it gets worse. In 1983, despite the absence of any pro-choice campaign at the time, the 8th Amendment was added to the Irish Constitution. This amendment gives equal weight under Irish law to a pregnant person and their fetus/embryo. From the moment of conception, an Irish woman’s life is legally considered no more valuable than the fetus inside her.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before the consequences of this became apparent. In 1992, a 14 year old child- known only as X- was raped and became pregnant. She and her parents planned to travel to the UK for an abortion. Her parents asked if and how DNA from the fetus could be used as evidence in prosecuting her rapist. Instead of allowing this, an injunction was taken out preventing X from leaving the country to procure an abortion overseas. The prospect of being forced to bear her rapist’s child led to X becoming suicidal. With massive support from the Irish people and a Supreme Court ruling that suicide was a genuine threat to her life, the injunction was lifted. The Supreme Court ruling, however, also noted for the first time the distinction between a threat to a woman’s life and her health. There is no protection for a pregnant person’s health in Ireland if this conflicts with the supposed interests of their fetus. And without legislation, history was bound to repeat itself. In 1997 it did, with the almost-identical case of 13-year-old Miss C. Despite two referenda in 1992 and 2002 and High Court and Supreme Court judgments, governments have done nothing. In the meantime, Savita Halappanavar died.

Continuing, Kennedy stressed that legislation for X, although overdue, is not enough. We need to protect more than women’s lives. We need acknowledgment of our right to health, and of our right to control our own lives without being considered criminals for doing so.

Proactive Campaigning

“Today’s meeting is the first step in a national campaign to achieve legislation for abortion in Ireland”

The final speaker, Aoife Dermody, went through the aims of Saturday’s meeting and the pro-choice campaign. We need immediate action on the X and C judgments. We need to educate the wider public on the need for action, and to mobilise support from diverse groups in Ireland. Finally, we need to promote up-to-date, relevant, evidence based information to create policy & challenge anti-choice rhetoric. With those aims in mind, the floor was opened for discussion.

Summarising the discussion in all its detail would be impossible. However, major themes were strategy. Do we campaign initially for legislation on X, and when that is achieved work towards repeal of the 8th Amendment? Or do we look for repeal from the beginning? How do we work with groups who may agree with us partially but have different ideas on the extent of legislation? Some quotes from the discussion:

“If womens lives are equal to those of their fetuses, why are we not investigating 4000+ murders a year? If antichoicers believe that, why are they not acting?”

“Choice matters. It’s not abortion on demand or abortion on request. It’s a woman’s right to choose.”

“I’d be a little afraid to go into hospital in Ireland given current legislation. Why should Irish women be scared of going to hospitals, of all places?”

[If and when X is legislated for,] “What mechanisms will women be given to access lifesaving abortions? Will we still be at mercy of antichoice doctors’ decisions?”

“Working class women left out of campaigns. Working class women are affected by budget, child benefit, carers’ cuts. Why are our voices not being heard?”

“Massive antichoice fetus posters are everywhere making us look like murderers, while real abortion stories go unheard.”

“We need to be careful of using words like “Irish”. We need to include immigrant women who may not even have right to travel”

“Our campaign needs to include trans men: they get pregnant and need abortions too”

After this, everyone split into smaller groups where we facilitated discussions on what is to be done- and how we can do it- in five areas: lobbying and politics, partnership and outreach, funding admin and training, media, and direct action. As I was facilitating this myself, all I can tell you about this is that there were no shortage of creative ideas and energy from any group. Results from the groups is being collated, and we should have a clearer framework of where we want to go and how we’ll get there soon.

I left the meeting inspired, energised and optimistic. Like Ailbhe Smyth said: we know where we want to go. We won’t get there today and we won’t get there tomorrow, but we won’t stop until we have what we want. Free, safe, legal abortions in Ireland.

Irish Choice Network open meeting

Pics from the Pro-choice Demo last night at Leinster House

A woman holds a placard saying “Why in the 21st Century are people still PISSING THEMSELVES over abortion on demand? What’s so scary about women being FULLY autonomous?”


Pics from the Pro-choice Demo last night at Leinster House

Abortion, X and the Eighth Amendment: why legislation isn’t enough.

TW: abortion, suicide.

It looks like Ireland is finally going to get legislation on abortion. Following the massive outcry over the fate of Savita Halappanavar, with the publication of the expert group report this week, there’ll be a debate in the Dail tonight on what- not if- to do about legislating for abortion to save pregnant people’s lives. With any luck, we’ll finally get that 20-years-overdue legislation on the X case, guidelines for doctors that spell out their responsibilities when faced with pregnant people whose lives are at risk, and Savita’s death, while unnecessary, will not have been utterly in vain.

But it won’t be enough. Why? The right to life. And suicide.

The Right to Life: the Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland states:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

To use my preferred terminology: the right to life of a person who is pregnant in Ireland is valued on an equal footing to the life of the embryo or fetus they carry. The state has a responsibility to defend the life of the fetus in a way that it is not required to defend a pregnant person.

Just as importantly, all that is defended is life. Health is not defended. I do not have the right to an abortion in Ireland if remaining pregnant will severely and irrevocably damage my health. In fact, doctors are forced to stand by and watch a pregnancy destroy the health of a pregnant person, as long as that person is not about to die.

Life is not the only thing that is important. My life is about more than just a beating heart. But in Ireland, as the constitution stands, if a pregnancy threatens to leave me with dangerous or long-term impairments I have no recourse. I do not get to choose whether to take that risk. According to the constitution, once a person is pregnant the only time their life matters is when it could be ended. Quality of life doesn’t matter. Health doesn’t matter. I become no longer an adult capable of making my own decisions regarding my body and what medical procedures I will put it through or am willing to live with. I am just a host.

Which brings us to suicide.

Suicide and X

Quick history for my non-Irish readers: in 1992, a 14 year old girl, pregnant and suicidal as the result of a rape, was at the centre of what is called the X Case. X, because she was never named. X was prevented from travelling to the UK for abortion by the High Court, but this decision was reversed by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the threat of suicide could be considered a real and substantial risk to X’s life. Wiki has a decent outline of the case if you want to know more. Later that year, and again ten years later in 2002, the governments of the time sought to reverse that ruling through consitutional amandments that would have removed the threat of suicide as a valid threat to the life of the pregnant person. Both of these were rejected. Neither have, until now, been legislated for. Of course.

There are two arguments that I hear against allowing suicidal people to obtain abortions legally in Ireland. The first is that there is no instance where having an abortion would relieve someone’s desire to end their own life. The second is that this would be abused- that people would fake being suicidal in order to access abortions. Both of these, to me, speak to a deep mistrust of women, an unwillingness to take women’s accounts of their own lives at their word, and a kind of paternalism that insists that the state knows best (I say ‘women’ here, by the way, not because everyone who is pregnant is a woman- of course they’re not- but because the awareness that trans* men and nonbinary people can be pregnant isn’t one that has permeated into widespread discourse on abortion). The fear is of abortion on demand, and people are willing to put the lives of suicidal Irish people at risk in order to prevent it. So let’s look into that, shall we?

Abortion on Demand: the facts.

We already have abortion on demand. If you’re pregnant and don’t want to be, then as long as you have the money and don’t have to worry about visas, you can get an abortion. At least twelve women every day leave Ireland for abortion on demand- and that is probably an underestimation because it doesn’t take into account people who don’t give Irish addresses. The demand for abortion already exists, and it is being met. This is not something that Irish people are unaware of. In 1992, we voted to guarantee the right of Irish people to obtain information about overseas abortions and to travel for them. The freedom to travel and freedom of information regarding abortion are right there in the same Constitution that declares that even if her health (as opposed to life) is in grave danger, a pregnant person may not obtain an abortion within our borders.


We have abortion on demand. If you’re healthy enough to travel, then as long as you have the money to pay for it, and as long as you are not an asylum seeker or immigrant without the right to travel outside of Ireland, anyone can hop on a plane to the UK for an abortion. Ironically enough, women who want ‘abortion on demand’ are in a far better position to obtain it than those whose health may be at risk. Our right to demand abortion is constitutionally guaranteed- as long as we do it out of sight and keep quiet about it.

Abortion on Demand: the fears

The fear is that, if we allow “abortion on demand” here in Ireland, Irish women will start using abortion as birth control. Statistics from around the world, however, belie this claim. The legality or not of abortion doesn’t change how often it happens. It just changes how likely a person is to survive the procedure. From the link above:

A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.
Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely.
[…] Some countries, like South Africa, have undergone substantial transitions in abortion laws […] The procedure was made legal in South Africa in 1996, leading to a 90 percent decrease in mortality among women who had abortions.

The way to prevent abortions is not to ban them. The way to prevent abortions is simply to provide better access to and education on contraceptives:

In Eastern Europe, where contraceptive choices have broadened since the fall of Communism, the study found that abortion rates have decreased by 50 percent, although they are still relatively high compared with those in Western Europe. “In the past we didn’t have this kind of data to draw on,” Ms. Camp said. “Contraception is often the missing element” where abortion rates are high, she said.

So why do we ban “abortion on demand” in Ireland? It doesn’t stop people from having abortions. It does mean that pregnant people who are unable to travel for legal or health reasons face significantly higher risks. I think that we ban it because we want to keep abortion out of sight. We want to shame people who have abortions and keep them quiet. We don’t trust women.

Repealing the Eighth Amendment

Legislating for X is a start. It’s not enough. If we value living in a state that respects the rights of women to their health as well as their lives, we need to repeal the Eighth Amendment. If we want to be a nation that grows up and stops exporting its problems to the UK? We have to repeal. If we actually care about reducing the numbers of later-term abortions and ensuring that everyone in this country, regardless of income or immigration status, has the same right to medical care? We have to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Legislation on X is a start. It’s necessary, and it’s decades overdue. But Irish people deserve better.

By the way:

If you’re in Dublin, don’t forget the protest tonight! We’ll be gathering outside Leinster House at 6pm, and there’ll be live audio of tonight’s Dail debate. Be there!

Abortion, X and the Eighth Amendment: why legislation isn’t enough.

Guest post: Savita and medicine.

I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Seonaid to guest post at the Tea Cosy- although I do, of course, wish it were in better circumstances. -Aoife

So, my international internet buddy Aoife posts a Thing about her reaction to hearing about the horrific way Savita Halappanavar died. And I cry, because like her, on October 21st-27th I was doing inconsequential things while a woman in a place in life not totally unlike mine lost a baby she wanted, and unnecessarily suffered and died. And I cry, because Ireland still has laws that outlaw all terminations of pregnancy, even cases of rape, incest, or where the mother’s life is in danger. And because the penalties are so great that no doctor would take the chance that perhaps the fact that the pregnancy was already terminating itself left room for an interpretation that the correct treatment might actually be legal.

Now I get self-centered and I cry some more because this is the type of thing that can’t happen here, where I live, in the United States, where people like Savita, and me, and any other person who menstruates, have fought for and won the right NOT to die like this. But also where the party that approximately half the population supports has just adopted similar ‘values’ as part of its official party platform. Where “repeal Roe v. Wade” and “support a woman’s right to choose” are opposing sides of a coin that is very prominent in any race for any elected position in the nation. Where we are saddened, but no longer surprised, when religious fundamentalists murder doctors who provide abortions.

And then an internet comment storm starts, with (astoundingly to this American so jaded by Republican/Democrat balkanization) hardly anyone screaming names like ‘demon’ and ‘murderer’. The most heated that side of it gets is actually very mild, to my ears, simply stating that the laws don’t need to be different to have saved Savita, that the right medical treatment was quite legal, and that it was criminal negligence on the part of the doctors that Savita had not been treated to stop her miscarriage.

Ah. Stop her miscarriage. And that’s where the commenter loses the ‘open to rational opposing opinions’ part of my brain that until then was willing to engage. Because as it happens, I know something about pregnancy, labor, pre-term labor, miscarriage, vaginal birth, and surgical birth. In the US, we deal with a different kind of suppression of reproductive choice: the right to give birth where and how you see fit. To give birth in a hospital and resist the immense pressure to let the staff ‘manage’ your labor is virtually unheard of (homebirth and midwives are a thing here, but are thought of as very ‘fringy’ and I was not aware at the time of my daughter’s birth that it was an option to be taken seriously).

And then I have an epiphany, the edges and vague form of which have occurred to me before but never in such clear, tangible form, that these two of my deepest-held causes (the right to choose NOT to give birth, and the right to choose HOW to give birth) are even more linked than parallel sentence construction and the obvious fact of the word ‘birth’. Because really, it’s all part and parcel of the same old disconnect: that self-proclaimed ‘pro-lifers’ are not pro-life in the slightest. They’re pro-birth. And yeah, that’s been said before, but it’s really not that my two causes are similar, related issues, it’s that they’re THE SAME ISSUE YOU GUYS. ‘Pro-life’ really means ‘pro-fetus-exiting-your-body-in-a-way-we-find-acceptable’.

Granted, that’s in the US, where we have much less access to birthing options even where they are technically available, so the parallels may be more obvious here. I’m not going to argue Irish law. I’m not going to talk about X, or A, B, and C. My own nation’s constitution and laws are difficult enough to understand, especially when you then get into how they interact with the 50 individual states’ constitutions and laws. Me arguing Irish constitutional law, Irish court rulings, ECHR rulings, etc. is pretentious at best and at worst leaves me looking like a nincompoop (as I proved to some small extent on Aoife’s facebook wall the other day).

But I know from medical interventions in birth. I know from pregnancy terminology. And what those people who are insisting that Savita should have been ‘treated for her miscarriage’ don’t understand is that preterm labor and miscarriage are not the same thing. Specifically, miscarriage is when pre-term labor has reached the point of no return. Miscarriage specifically means there is no treatment that will stop the fetus from exiting the womb one way or another. And Savita was diagnosed as having a miscarriage. So ‘scuse me while I get to the meat of this post: the technical details (pardon my American spelling of medical terms).

Preterm labor has three possible outcomes:

  1. Preterm labor can be treatable, that is, it can sometimes be stopped or slowed long enough to let the fetus grow to a more viable stage. Treatments, whether medical or surgical (progesterone or cerclage) are focused on preventing the water from breaking, preventing dilation of the cervix, because if these things occur, the fetus will be expelled from the uterus.
    In nearly all cases, treatment only delays expulsion of the fetus for a few days, but this may be long enough, if the fetus is of sufficient gestational age at the time preterm labor begins,  to administer certain drugs to the mother that will accelerate development of the fetus’ lungs and brain to increase viability.
  2. Whether treatable or not, preterm labor can end in a premature birth, where the fetus is born alive. The fetus may only live briefly, depending on how far along the pregnancy has progressed and what caused the preterm labor.
    Fetuses from 16 weeks on might have a heartbeat for a few minutes after birth.
    Long-term survival has never been reported for less than 21 weeks and 5 days.
    At 24 weeks gestational age, there is about a 50% chance the infant will survive long-term.
    At 26 weeks gestational age, there is about a 50% chance the infant will survive long-term without moderate or major neurological disability.
  3. Preterm labor can end in miscarriage. Up to 24 weeks, even if the fetus is born alive, the outcome is termed a miscarriage if it then dies shortly afterward. Untreatable preterm labor at 17 weeks can only end in miscarriage.

Miscarriage is also referred to medically as spontaneous abortion, that is, a pregnancy that ends naturally before the embryo or fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb. One of the stages of a miscarriage is called ‘inevitable miscarriage’. This means that the cervix is dilated but the fetus is not yet expelled.

Preterm labor is what Savita experienced before the point where her cervix was fully dilated and her water had broken. Inevitable miscarriage is what Savita presented with at the hospital, and what she was forced to experience for three days because her fetus would certainly die outside her uterus.

Her cervix was fully dilated, her water had broken, and her uterus was contracting. THERE WAS NO TREATMENT, LAWFUL 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 bodies do after any birth: contract the uterus down to near its pre-pregnancy size and close the cervix.

Let me paint a very different picture for you. If Savita had been 26 weeks along, the fetus would have had a 50% chance of survival without neurological disability.  After 12 hours of labor, the doctors would have become very concerned about stress on the unborn fetus. Well before 24 hours had passed, they would very probably have insisted on inducing stronger labor (the treatment she requested three times) or performing an emergency cesarean, because the fetus would have a greater chance of survival in neonatal intensive care than going through the physical stress of a prolonged labor.

And again, another, still different picture. If she had been 37 weeks along, they would have exerted extreme pressure on Savita, whether she wanted it or not, to let them induce stronger contractions or perform a cesarean once her water had been broken for 24 hours, because they would have perceived both her and the fetus to be at increased risk for septicemia. SEPTICEMIA. They would have done just about anything they thought would work to manipulate her into agreeing, in some cases even lying about her baby’s well-being. They would have done this even though it is actually repeated cervical checks that increase the risk of septicemia, and if they keep their hands out of laboring people’s vaginas, the risk does not increase.

In other words, if the fetus stood a chance of surviving the birth, they would have insisted on doing exactly what Savita asked them at least three times to do. But because Savita was only 17 weeks along; because this baby she wanted could not survive but had not yet died inside her; because the law on abortion in her adopted country is at best so ambiguous that no doctor could be sure they would not go to prison for life if they treated her appropriately, and at worst outright values the life of a fetus who is absolutely going to be born, and die within minutes of being born, over that of a mother begging repeatedly for her life to be saved… because of these things, she was forced to wait three days for her baby to die inside her. 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. She was forced to wait, because doctors were unable, on penalty of life in prison, to save her life.

I can’t think of a way to wrap this up neatly. It’s not a story of disgust and outrage, with a tidy resolution at the end. Because at the end of this story, Savita dies. This is real-life disgust and outrage, and real life is rarely story-shaped.


Guest post: Savita and medicine.

Anti-abortion is not pro-life.

Anti-abortion is not pro-life.

Have we learned this yet? Let me say it again. Anti-abortion is not pro-life. I am sick of anti-abortionists hijacking the language of life. As if pro-choice people were somehow pro-death.

We know better now. Don’t we? Shouldn’t we already? For years, clinics providing abortions in the US, Canada, Australia, and probably more have been victims of attacks by murderous anti-abortionists. ‘Pro-lifers’ willing to bomb, shoot and kill to further their goals. Do you remember George Tiller?

‘Pro-lifers’ will deny any connection to people who kill to further the very viewpoints they espouse. They’re not like that, they’ll say. They value life, they’ll say. And yet this is a group that thinks nothing of standing outside clinics shouting vile accusations at vulnerable women who they know nothing about, on what may be one of the most difficult days of their lives. Have you ever heard of pro-choicers bombing anti-abortion organisations? Shooting anti-abortion campaigners in front of their family and friends? Destroying the lives of people who are anti-abortion?

I could talk here about connections between the characterisation of women and doctors as murderers and violence against them. I could talk about hatred and dehumanisation and what it leads to. But that’s not for today.

Today is about the fact that even if anti-abortion rhetoric wasn’t full of violence against women, anti-abortion policies kill women.

Anti-abortion is not pro-life.

Anti-abortion is not pro-life

I might just start identifying as pro-life. I am pro-life. I believe passionately in defending the rights of women to our own lives. Both to the choice to live as we see fit, and to the right to continue living. I care deeply about preventing unnecessary pain and suffering. I never want a woman to die a preventable, agonising death.
I believe in the rights of children- all children- to be brought up by families who cherish them and for whom they are a joy. I want to live in a world where everyone who becomes a parent wants to do so, and where every child knows that their parents freely chose to have them.
I believe in the rights of living people. Not potential people. Potential people may have their time, but those who matter most are those who exist here and now. People with thoughts and dreams, friends and loved ones. People in communities. People who can feel fear and pain and love and hope. These are the people who matter most, because right here and now these are the people who are people. There was a time when they were not. But now they are.

Anti-abortion is not pro-life.

Anti-abortion is not pro-life.

Love and Shame in the Wake of Savita

I love my city. It’s easy to love. In a pub in Glasgow the other day I heard people around a pool table mocking how much Corkonians love our city. Loving Cork is a tired old stereotype that just so happens to be true. There’s a lot to love.

My city is walking by the river on a chilly day eating takeaway gourmet sausage sandwiches from the English Market. It’s warm cafes and pubs you can spend all day in. It’s meeting people you know every time you walk down the street. It’s friendliness and openness. It’s laid-back, relaxed, shure it’ll be grand. My city is where I came out and was nurtured (and, er, some other things too!) by a wonderful queer community. My city is organic, free-range and fair-trade. It’s beardy lefties and bringing your kids and dogs along to the protest. My city is a wonderful sense of independence, knowing we’re as good as anyone and probably better, and doing it yourself.

I love my city. I am deeply ashamed of my country.

A lot of non-Irish blogs and other media have been talking about Savita this week. Of course they have! And to start off, I was aghast at how they talked about Ireland. As if we’re an ignorant, backward, priest-ridden society. As if we’re a nation of fundamentalists. I wanted to shout at them that we’re not like that. We’re a secular society! Many of us call ourselves Catholics, but we don’t hang off a bishop’s every word. We don’t. I wanted to say that we’re a secular society chipping away at a decades-old institutional veneer of religiosity. I wanted to share how easy it is to be irreligious, atheist or humanist as an adult in Ireland. I wanted to talk about how I’ve never had to come out as atheist like so many Americans I hear about. I’ve never worried about being shunned or rejected because of my lack of belief. I wanted to shout that we’re so, so far from stereotypes of Irishness.

But none of that matters.

A candle-lit vigil for Savita, her name in candles on the ground.

We’re not a secular society chipping away at a decades-old institutional veneer of religiosity. Not any more. We’re a society rotten to the core with the abject power and reach of the Catholic Church, with an easy, shallow sheen of secularism. We’re secular when it’s easy. As a childless adult, an Irish citizen without major health issues who moves in urban, educated circles, it’s easy. I don’t have to send a child to a Catholic school. I don’t have to stay in a hospital. I live easily.

Many of us live easily. And one of the things about being Irish is that we figure that if it ain’t broke, there’s no point worrying about it. We live our easy lives and we decide that it’ll be grand. Sure, abortion is illegal here. But can’t you get over to the UK for half nothing with Ryanair? Not a bother like.

Our complacency gave us an easy life. And now our complacency has killed.

I love my city. I love my country too, but as a Corkonian I’ve got to say that I love my city more. I love my city and my country, and I am deeply ashamed of them. My sweet, easygoing city is part of a country that sat for decades on a ruling that would have prevented Savita Halappanavar’s death. Because underneath our laid-back exterior is a cowardly and judgemental core.

Protester holding a sign with the word "shame"

We should be ashamed. We need to be ashamed. We need to feel our shame, take it and turn it into rage. We need to stand before Savita Halappanavar’s husband, parents, friends and family and tell them that we were wrong. We need to beg them for the mercy that we did not show their wife and daughter.

And then we need to stand up and take responsibility.

The world thinks that Ireland is a fundamentalist, backward country. They think that we would rather follow the bishops than our own consciences. They think that we don’t care about the lives of women. They are right.

We need to be ashamed, and then we need to change this. We need to change it NOW. Not next year. Now. Because in our hospitals today there are women suffering through miscarriages. There are women at risk of septicaemia. If we are to call ourselves a civilised country, we act now. We legislate for X, and we make that legislation rock-solid. And today, tomorrow, next year, ten years and a hundred years from now, when we talk about abortion we do not listen to a Church that would have women die. We listen to Savita’s pain, to the grief of her loved ones, to our deep and abiding sense of shame, and we do the right thing.

Love and Shame in the Wake of Savita

Abortion and journeys.

I wrote this yesterday morning. Meant to post it yesterday but after no sleep at all, got home and crashed out. Here it is.

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.

I’m lucky. I’ve never had to make that journey. I’m lucky. I have the choice.

I don’t know about the details of Savita’s life. I’m sure I’ll find out more over the next days and weeks. But right now I want to ask a question. Did Savita have a choice? And what about the women who don’t?

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.

I don’t know the details of Savita’s life. But this isn’t just about Savita. She is one of the unlucky ones. She’s the one we’ve heard about. Savita is dead, and I can’t believe that she’s alone. Savita’s life is one part of our story of absolutes, lack of compassion and the devaluing of so many lives in the name of morality.

Sitting here in a UK airport before dawn this morning, I wonder about the rest of that story.

Abortion and journeys.

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.