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.
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 are happier and healthier for having had an abortion are deluded, or lying.
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. The court said the Irish government had failed to properly implement the constitutional right to abortion if a woman’s life was in danger.
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.
John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, wrote:
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 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 was cancelled the same year Bishop Fleming wrote this, out of respect to the woman who choreographed the dancing and who would have danced to celebrate the festival, Savita Halappanavar.
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 2012.
Praveen Halappanavar said:
“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.”
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 still can’t believe she’s gone,” said Mr Halappanavar.
“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.”
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.
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.
So why do I still call them prolife?
Because that’s what they call themselves. It is bitterly ironic that they name themselves prolife and campaign to have women die, but I will continue to use their name and require them to call us prochoice.
Prochoice is pro-life however ‘ProLife’ is not Pro-choice. The spectacle of doctors and nurses standing by while a patient under their care slowly dies should horrify anyone. Ireland’s health service executive and the University Hospital ordered investigations into how this was allowed to happen, but we all know, John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, gave the answer.
This post is part extract and slightly edited from edinburgheye.wordpress.com
The original post was written by Jane Carnall (@EyeEdinburgh) and was published on the 14th of November 2012, originally titled 'Why do I Still Call Them Prolife?'
Jane is an advocate for LGBT rights as well as covering topical political issues such as Scottish Independence and Brexit.
The cover art is called ‘Sleepless’ by Kostas Skopelitis (@kskopel863)