I had a blog post all ready to go for today’s offering – one about unrequited love, teenage crushes, and all that juicy and embarrassing stuff that people love reading (when it’s not written about them). It’s a topic of interest for me because of the kind of stories I like to write. It has great relevance. It would have been a fun post.
But today isn’t the day for that post, because of something that happened yesterday.
Yesterday morning, not long after I’d written my last post, a news story broke in Ireland about the tragic death of a woman named Savita Halappanavar. This lady, who was 31 years old and had been 17 weeks pregnant, died in hospital a week after she’d first presented there with back pain (which subsequently turned out to be a miscarriage). She died of septicaemia, and had suffered tremendously before her death, both emotionally and physically.
I am an Irish Catholic, observant of my faith and deeply attached to it. I have no problem in stating as much, and anyone who knows me in real life will attest to it. I have been pro-life all my life, and I think that, even if I were not a religious person, I would still be pro-life. Yesterday, however, reading about Savita Halappanavar and what she had to go through, the foundations of my belief system began to crack.
If this woman – this bright, intelligent, deeply loved woman – had been allowed to have a medical abortion, i.e. a termination of her miscarrying foetus, it may have saved her life. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t say for sure. But what I can say for sure is that this woman was denied that procedure. She remained miscarrying for days, her body open to all sorts of infection, she and her husband forced to go through mental and physical agony.
In Ireland, in these sorts of situations, a termination is supposed to be permitted. Abortion in general is illegal, but if there is a clear and present risk to a mother’s life, it is just supposed to happen – no questions asked, save the mother first. Even as a pro-life person, I can see that’s the only logical answer. Ms Halappanavar’s baby would not have been able to survive – lost without hope, there was no way its life could have been saved. But because there is no proper, legislated, cast-iron, definitive ruling in this country to say to doctors ‘This is the point at which you may terminate’, two lives have been lost, instead of one. How does a medical professional decide when a mother’s life is at risk? How does it become clear that a woman might die unless medical intervention is introduced? How do we know this won’t happen again?
Ireland is supposed to be one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and give birth. Our maternal mortality rate is low, and the statistics are often trumpeted by the pro-life campaigners here, who connect the safety in pregnancy with Ireland’s status as a country where abortion is illegal. I’ve actually never really been able to connect the two points of view myself, but I don’t think I ever really gave it a huge amount of thought before. What I now know, having watched the events of yesterday unfold, is that one of the central planks in the pro-life movement has been removed, and that is their certainty that if a woman in medical distress needed a termination in order to save her life, it would be done. We’ve seen it’s not as easy as that.
I can’t find any viewpoint on this situation in which I’m not ashamed of my country. I can’t find a way to excuse the way Ms Halappanavar was treated. I can’t get past the fact that a medical procedure which I always assumed would just take place in a situation like this did not take place, and no proper explanation was given to Ms Halappanavar or her husband. I can’t understand why doctors do not know how to navigate the grey area in the law, and cannot (or, at least, could not in this case) determine when the danger to a mother’s life outweighs any need to try to save a foetus who, at 17 weeks’ gestation, more than likely could not survive anyway. This situation could have happened to me – it could have happened to any of my friends, my cousins, my ‘sisters-in-law’. I have lost faith in my own country, and one of my own rock-solid convictions has started to crack. It’s a frightening thing.
There are renewed calls today for abortion legislation to be introduced in Ireland. We’ve buried our heads in the sand for twenty years, longer even, on making a law around these issues which is clear, unambiguous and fair. I (personally) do not wish for abortion without restriction to be introduced into Ireland. But I do wish, very deeply, for our Government to finally face facts on this issue, and put a law in place which protects women and expectant mothers. I want them to get rid of the grey area, which leaves doctors marooned in a sea of insecurity, helpless and unable to act for fear of being sued or arrested, and put into law exactly what is to be done in a situation like Ms Halappanavar’s. It is not the eighteenth century; women’s health issues shouldn’t cause our Government to blush and hide their faces, glossing over the uncomfortable details. Lives are at stake. This issue is too important, and it can’t be ignored any more.
I am pro-life, and proud to be. But I’m now realising my viewpoint needs to encompass all life; I am pro-woman, pro-expectant mother, pro-human being. I cannot stay silent when the heartbeat of a non-viable foetus, slowly dying, is privileged over the heartbeat of a healthy young woman, also slowly dying. That just doesn’t make sense. In the 21st century, in a developed country which prides itself on its maternal safety record, women shouldn’t die like this.
I spent a lot of yesterday clouded in sorrow, grieving for a woman I never knew, sorry that she had lost her vibrant, precious life in my country. It cannot be allowed to happen again.