In Ireland, as everybody knows, if you need an abortion you have to go overseas to get it. (The Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast can only perform simple abortions and legally, in Northern Ireland, only when the life of the woman is at risk.)
In the Republic of Ireland, abortions for molar and ectopic pregnancies are routinely performed – but the hospitals and the government carefully don’t refer to them as abortions. (See: When is an abortion not an abortion.)
The antichoice brigade call themselves “prolife”, because they are against ending foetal lives safely and legally. They tell themselves stories about how women don’t need abortions: they use phrases like the “abortion industry”, assuring themselves that women who say they did need abortions and they are happier and healthier for having had abortion are deluded, or lying. A recent study demonstrated that women who are denied an abortion and end up being forced to have the baby experience worse outcomes than women who are able to obtain an abortion.
(Or just unheard: Cora Sherlock, a Irish prolife campaigner, repeatedly refuses to discuss on what basis she disregards the testimony of the majority of women who leave Ireland to have abortions, when she claims that all women are traumatised by abortion. (Since the majority of those who identify feeling traumatised – most don’t – say that their trauma was caused by Ireland’s outsourcing of abortion so that they had to travel, as if having an abortion was something to be ashamed of. The Irish prolife movement is explicitly not interested in hearing that.)
I noted in Cora Sherlock’s blog months ago:
There is considerable evidence that the Irish healthcare system will not provide abortions to the women who need them for health reasons because the stigma against referring for abortion is so great.
If the woman can travel to London, a doctor will simply advise her to do so. There is a systematic culture of denial among Irish prolifers that there is ever any need for a woman to have an abortion to preserve her health or save her life.
In December 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that if abortion in Ireland is allowed when a woman’s life is at risk, then the Irish government must make it possible for a woman to have an abortion when her life is at risk.
The court said the Irish government had failed to properly implement the constitutional right to abortion if a woman’s life was in danger.
Correspondents say the ruling is likely to force the Dublin government to introduce new legislation or bring in new guidelines.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said politicians now needed to consider the implications of the ruling.
“It’s an issue for the whole political spectrum to consider,” he said.
Since then, prolifers in Ireland – possibly funded by American right-wing campaigners who find the Irish ban on abortion a convenient talking point – have been insistently and sometimes very publicly arguing that there is absolutely no need for any change: no matter how much heartbreak, trouble and expense the ban places on women who need abortions, there are to be no abortions in Ireland.
Yesterday, the festival of Diwali began. Rita Banerji writes about the meaning of the festival to the women shamed, used, and killed by the misogynistic objectification of women: the Fifty Million Missing campaign against the female foetuses selectively aborted, the girls left to die, the women killed outright for having been raped or because their family have not paid enough dowry. It should be the shame of the prolife movement that they are indifferent to every aspect of gendercide except selective abortion – which they make use of for their own misogynistic objectification campaign. (See: Honour Killing.)
The key moral issue, therefore, for Catholics is that the life of the unborn can never be taken intentionally.
Our Catholic faith has a very clear view on the dignity of the human person, human rights and, in particular, the right to life. For those who view life through the lens of their Christian faith, our bodies are sacred; temples of the Holy Spirit, created in the image of God and redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Christians, our bodies are not our own to do with them what we will. Our bodies come from God, are created in God’s image and destined for eternal life with him in heaven. This is our faith and this is what distinguishes us from those who do not share our faith.
From the moment of conception each of us has developed as a human being, not into a human being. The child in the womb is not a “potential” human life, but a human life with potential.
The Diwali festival in Galway is cancelled this year, out of respect to the woman who choreographed the dancing and who would have danced to celebrate the festival. Savita Halappanavar is dead.
Savita Halappanavar died because she was denied an abortion: because she was in hospital in prolife Ireland, in the country where – as Bishop Fleming says – they have such a clear idea of “the dignity of the human person, human rights and, in particular, the right to life” that when the foetus’s heart is still beating inside a pregnant woman, she must be left to die in intensive care, in a prolife hospital, since Catholic ethics would not permit killing the foetus to save a woman’s life.
“I was with her those four days in intensive care. Every time they kept telling me: ‘She’s young. She’ll get over it’. But things never changed, they only got worse. She was so full of life. She loved kids.
“It was all in their hands and they just let her go. How can you let a young woman go to save a baby who will die anyway? Savita could have had more babies.”
“What is the use in being angry? I’ve lost her. I am talking about this because it shouldn’t happen to anyone else. It’s very hard. It has been a terrible few weeks, very hard to understand how this can happen in the 21st century, very hard to explain to her family.
“If it had happened in the UK or India, the whole thing would have been over in a few hours. We just pray now, wherever she is, she is happy.”
So now Savita Halappanavar is dead, and the foetus dead inside her too, of course: two dead when one could have lived, if not for prolife ethics. As far as Bishop Fleming is concerned, this is the “genuinely humane and compassionate solution”: he writes
Too often abortion is erroneously talked of as if it offers a “solution” to difficult or tragic circumstances. Bishops point out in our Choose Life! pastoral message, which has been circulated to all 1,360 parishes on the island, that the deliberate taking of innocent life can never be the basis for a genuinely humane or compassionate solution.
In the days before the US elections, Republicans who saw poll after poll telling them that they were losing women voters in droves because of the sustained attack by the Republican party across the US on a woman’s right to choose abortion, a woman’s right to use contraception, tried to claim that Democratic party supporters were just bringing the abortion issue up as a scare tactic.
Currently, our politicians are engaged in an existential crisis about the awful prospect of having to legislate to allow women, whose lives are in danger, access to an abortion.
Read that sentence again and really think about what it means. If you’re a man, think about your mother, sisters, wife, girlfriend and female friends. Would you prefer they die rather than have access to an abortion? Because that’s what this is all about. In this progressive European country, successive governments have steadfastly refused to introduce legislation that would allow women, who would otherwise die, access to life-saving medical treatment. Elsewhere in the Western World, such an odious public debate, displaying such a disgusting disregard for the lives of women, would be treated with the contempt it deserves.
Here, it’s considered controversial by some to say that, actually, women’s lives take precedence over an unborn foetus and at the very least a legislative regime, governing access to an abortion when it’s a medical necessity, should be introduced.
It’s Twilight Zone stuff — especially when one considers that a majority of the Irish people endorsed the very limited terms of the X Case in a referendum in 2002.
Those Irish politicians paralysed by cowardice and cynically ignoring their conscience on this issue should look at the carnage that was wrought on the Republican Party last week by a very important demographic — women.
The SNP and the Greens may have a point in feeling (ironically) holier-than-thou on gay rights and abortion, but as a means to an end in terms of winning independence, they may need to think of a new strategy.
Regarded simply as an electoral strategy, the problem for the SNP is not winning the Christian vote for independence – whatever that may mean (Christians in the US were voting for Obama in millions, despite what the evangelical and Catholic hierarchy were telling them about the evils of abortion, contraception, and gay marriage) – but winning the women’s vote. The First Minister and the Health Secretary are both prolifers, both explicitly antichoice, believers that once past 20 weeks pregnant a woman should suffer through whatever’s going to happen to her. They don’t by themselves control party policy, but they’re a pair of anti-woman voices at the very centre of SNP government.
I write about electoral consequences, but the truth is: I am just angry.
Savita Halappanavar, 17 weeks pregnant, died of septicaemia in hospital. Under prolife care. Looked after by prolife doctors and nurses who did not want to save her life because that would have entailed killing the foetus that was dying inside her.
After the 31-year-old dentist was told that she was miscarrying, her husband reportedly said that she had asked for a medical termination a number of times over a three day period, during which she was in severe pain.
But he said these requests were denied because a foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told at one point: “This is a Catholic country.”
Medical staff removed the dead foetus days later after the heartbeat stopped but Halappanavar died of septicaemia on 28 October.
Why do I call them prolife?
Because that’s their name for themselves. It is bitterly ironic that they name themselves prolife and campaign to have women die, but that is what they call themselves and I will continue to use their name for themselves and require them to call us prochoice.
Prochoice is pro-life. The spectacle of doctors and nurses standing by while a patient under their care slowly dies should horrify anyone. (Two nurses who were campaigning for the right to do just that in a Glasgow hospital lost their case.) Ireland’s health service executive and the University hospital have ordered investigations into how this was allowed to happen, but we already know the answer: John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, gave it.
The key moral issue, therefore, for Catholics is that the life of the unborn can never be taken intentionally.
“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.
“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.
“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.
“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.
“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”
For two years the Irish government have been prevaricating over guidelines that would “allow” hospitals to save Savita Halappanavar’s life. For two years prolifers have been protesting that abortion isn’t necessary.
Savita Halappanavar died. If you are a prolifer reading this you are probably thinking of “strategies” to get around this, to avoid talking about this, to avoid actually changing the law. Why not? You have the men of the Church on your side, wealthy American campaigners on your side.
But Savita Halappanavar died. Can all your protestations that she didn’t “need” an abortion bring her back to life?
Edinburgh tonight (Wednesday 14th November) outside The Merchants Hall, 22 Hanover Street, 7-10pm
The Alliance of Pro-Life Students is holding the first of several “profile-raising and fundraising events” for their mission:
“…to build university communities in England, Scotland and Wales that have a lasting and profound respect for human life from fertilisation to natural death”.
This is the attitude that led to trained doctors and nurses showing “respect” by letting Savita Halappanavar die under their care.
Dublin: tonight (Wednesday 14th November) from 6pm at the Dail, Kildare Street: PROTEST at Savita’s death – Legislate for X case now
Dublin: Saturday 17th November at 4pm “No more tragedies. Legislate NOW.”