“This is a Catholic country” was what Irish doctors told Savita Halappanavar after she learned she was miscarrying her pregnancy and asked for an abortion to avoid further complications. She spent three days in agonizing pain, eventually shaking, vomiting and passing out. She again asked for an abortion and was refused, because the fetus still had a heartbeat.
Then she died.
She died of septicaemia and E.Coli. She died after three and a half days of excruciating pain. She died after repeatedly begging for an end to the pregnancy that was poisoning her. Her death would have been avoided if she had been given an abortion when she asked for it — when it was clear she was miscarrying, and that non-intervention would put her at risk. But the fetus, which had no chance of survival, still had a heartbeat. Its right to life quite literally trumped hers.
U.S. politicians and “pro-life” advocates like Joe Walsh will tell you that there are no circumstances under which women need abortions to avoid death or injury. The Republican platform doesn’t include an exception for medically necessary abortion. And the Republican party is trying to put laws similar to those in Ireland on the books in the United States — laws that would allow emergency room doctors to refuse to perform abortions, even in cases where the pregnant woman’s life or health depends on terminating the pregnancy. The GOP isn’t exactly the most science-friendly or fact-reliant crowd in the world, but to them, women like Savita either don’t exist or just don’t matter. As Jodi at RH Reality Check writes:
These are the lives of your sister, your mother, your daughter, your aunt, your friends, and your colleagues. These are the lives at stake. These are the very people that the fanatical anti-choice and religious right see as “not people.”
They are all Savita Halappanavar.
We are all Savita Halappanavar.
But we do not have to die at the hands of misogynists.
In honor of Savita Halappanavar; in honor of the nearly 22 million women worldwide each year who endure unsafe aborton; in honor of the 47,000 women per year worldwide who die from complications of unsafe abortion and the estimated 10 times that number who suffer long-term health consequences; in honor of the millions of women who do not have access to contraception, who have no control over whether and with whom they have sex or and whether or with whom they have children, we can fight back. In honor of the young girls married young and the women forced to bear children long past the point they are able to care for more… for all these women, we must continue to act, to liberalize abortion laws, ensure every woman has access, remove the stigma, and trust women, like Savita, who know when it is time to end even the most wanted pregnancy.
Just two months ago, a consortium of Irish doctors got together to declare abortion medically unnecessary. They claimed that abortion is never needed to save a pregnant woman’s life, and stated, “We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.”
I’m pretty sure Savita Halappanavar would disagree. I’m pretty sure she didn’t get optimal care.