A woman dies in Ireland after being denied medically necessary abortion

Trigger Warning

Conservatives love to wing-it when it comes to the science of the female body and what is and isn’t medically viable. Perhaps those that advocate for no access to abortion, under any circumstances whatsoever, believe women have some kind of magical ability to “shut the whole thing down” when they are faced with a life threatening pregnancy. Perhaps that is the case in Ireland, a Catholic country where abortion is illegal. Or maybe they believe a woman deserves to die when she can’t carry her pregnancy to term–that’s all I can think of that would justify allowing a woman to drop dead after three days of agonizing pain because her pregnancy had become toxic and was killing her.

Jill writes at Feministe, 

“This is a Catholic country” was what Irish doctors told Savita Halappanavarafter 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.

This is the world the GOP wants to create for certains states in the US–that is a certainty–with presidential candidates running on platforms that demand no abortion, no exceptions or argue that it is never the case that it is medically necessary for a woman to have an abortion.

It’s a frightening prospect and one that could harm the lives of many women. In a 2004 study, the Guttmacher Institute found that 13% of abortions reported were because of possible health problems affecting the fetus and 12% were concerns of their own health.

Jodi Jacobson writes at RH Reality Check, 

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.

Because she deserved to live. We deserve to live. We are people.


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  • http://feministing.com/members/cadedebois/ Cade DeBois

    I am admittedly very affected by this story. Not only do I know the Catholic Church’s “pro-life” stance very well (spent almost 9 years at a Catholic University, including studying philosophy and theology in the grad program), I had an abortion for an ectopic pregnancy that had been not properly dx’d when I showed up at a GP office having been in unrelenting pain for 3 days. Pain so bad I could barely eat or sleep, could not go to my college classes, and much of the time, couldn’t even stand up straight. I was told…and this still gets me…that because it was my first pregnancy, that it was normal for me to be in such discomfort. Really.

    In my gut I felt something was genuinely very wrong, and so I scheduled an appointment for an abortion. After yet four more days of crippling pain, I finally learned–at the abortion clinic, with a doctor who had seen plenty of problem pregnancies that needed to be terminated to spare the woman’s body and life–that I had a non-viable and life-threatening interstitial pregnancy. And I was LUCKY because had I waited any longer–and had been forced to wait–even a few days more, it could have ruptured my uterus.

    I just don’t get this. I really don’t. Pregnancy is not religious phenomenon. It is not a moral idea. It is a biological event, and one that comes with many, well-known, well-documented risks. You cannot moralize biology. Morality is for human action, not processes that are beyond our individual control, like my ectopic pregnancy, or a dying fetus that, for whatever reason, does not miscarry properly,or for a fetus that will not survive after birth and will only know agony in its short moments or few days of life. Nor is such moralizing appropriate for social and personal circumstances that an individual cannot overcome by their own choices alone, like a woman who has been disadvantaged all her life and cannot have another child without being forced into even deeper poverty, or a woman who struggles with depression and cannot cope with a pregnancy or caring for a new child, or a woman who has to flee an abusive partner whose behavior she cannot change. The only place morality has in these equations is what *we* can do for the woman. Help her or don’t help her. And the morally right answer to that is a no-brainers for any clear-thinking individual. If someone is being overwhelmed by circumstances that they cannot change, you help them. That’s that this thing we like to call social justice. Funny, because I distinctly recall the Catholic Church claiming to be all for that. It also qualifies as an act of mercy (caring for the sick and comforting the afflicted) in the Catholic spiritual tradition–the very same spiritual tradition that led the Church to found hospitals (although it seems they’ve pretty much have forgotten about all that mercy stuff too). You don’t play bullshit morality games around the option for the woman to choose to end such pregnancy. That’s not just and that’s not merciful. You make damn sure that option is available to her, so she may be spared the worse of such unfortunate circumstance.

    The risks involved with pregnancies do not change because you’re at a Catholic hospital. Saying “We’re a Catholic hospital” is not an acceptable answer to why you willingly allowed a woman to die when you could have provided the medical invention she needed. And if this hospital is willing to deny life-saving care, then why is it even still open?

    And for their Catholicness, I would say, they need to have a serious soul searching about just how far they have abandoned their mission of social justice and mercy.

    • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

      Thanks. Your story is very arresting and your writing and thinking very clear and insightful.

  • http://feministing.com/members/sham/ Sham

    “Saying “We’re a Catholic hospital” is not an acceptable answer to why you willingly allowed a woman to die when you could have provided the medical invention she needed. And if this hospital is willing to deny life-saving care, then why is it even still open?”

    Because it’s not that the hospital was a Catholic one that refused to follow the law . It’s that the whole COUNTRY is allegedly a Catholic one(although the actual woman in the case is not, so that’s clearly not true), and has extremely vague laws on abortion when a mother’s life is in danger.

    She had the same choices as any other woman does, she could carry on with the pregnancy, which killed her, or get on the plane to England for an abortion, with the cost, extra trauma and shortage of follow-up care that offers. If she did die due to a Catholic ethos, it’s the country to blame, not the hospital.

    But it’s alright. They’ve already sorted this out. There was a big case before, the X Case, when it was decided that abortion is allowed if the life of the mother is in danger, and that we need clearer guidelines on when abortion is legal. Should be big changes soon. It’s only been twenty years since that court decision was made in 1992. =/

    And I wouldn’t even suggest closing hospitals here, even with this whole mess. It’s causing more than a little controversy, the government closing hospitals we really need. Even if they are malpractising and whatever, we’ll take what we get. Pathetic really, but that’s the truth. DX

    At least it’s causing controversy, people are outraged, there was a huge protest outside the Dáil tonight, and it’s not very often that happens over here.

    The whole thing’s heartbreaking though, I could genuinely cry for her and her family.