Pro-Choice protests after Savita Halappanavar’s death


by Sarah McAlpine    
3:39 pm - November 14th 2012

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Feminist groups are organising pro-choice protests demanding a change in Irish abortion law following the death of Savita Halappanavar who died of septecimia after being denied an abortion that could have saved her life.

Although Doctors assessed that 17-week pregnant Savita was miscarrying, they were unable to remove the foetus for three days due to the presence of a heartbeat. Abortion is legal in Ireland if the mothers’ life is at risk due ruling in 2010 from the European Court of Human Rights. However, the Irish Government has so far failed to implement any legislation to reflect the court’s ruling.

The ordeal left Savita in agonising pain, and opened her cervix up to infection. When she and her husband begged doctors to terminate the pregnancy they were told “this is a Catholic country”. Although Savita eventually had the foetus removed from her womb, it was too late and she died from infection a few days later.

The Pro-choice Campaign (Ireland) is organising a protest in Savita’s name outside the Dail at 6pm this evening, demanding that the Government cease in delaying a change to the law. The group released a statement on their facebook page accusing the Irish government of being “content to kick the problem down the road or pretend it doesn’t exist.”

“We will no longer tolerate their delaying tactics. Women’s lives are in danger until we have this legislation.”

British feminists are also planning a protest in solidarity outside the Irish Embassy in London at 6pm.

 

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About the author
Sarah McAlpine is a News Editor at Liberal Conspiracy, and volunteer Co-Editor at www.womensviewsonnews.org. Raging Feminist. She likes Politics, Smashing Patriarchy & Animal Videos - though not necessarily in that order.
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Story Filed Under: Equality ,Europe ,Events ,Feminism ,Health ,Law ,News ,Religion ,Sex equality

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Reader comments


Horrible. Imagine being in circumstances like that and being told nothing can be done because of an outdated law.

It’s a reminder that in some places the “bad old days” are the present. “Pro-life” indeed.

“This is a Catholic country”

And don’t we all fecking know it!

This is what happens when you let a cabal of elderly celibates (I bet) dictate your social policies.

That the remnants of the Dark Ages lurk anywhere is bad enough, but in hospitals it’s unforgivable.

This is why i baulk at the name ‘pro life’ at this debate. These people are not ‘pro life’, they are anti abortion. Nothing instrinctly wrong in that, but a woman died because of anti abortion laws. There was no ‘pro life’ defence here.

Pro life people are not pro life. If they were they would support universal health care and be opposed to endless wars for profit. They are not. So they are not pro life. They side with the kiddie fiddling priests and clergy.

17 weeks? Worth remembering our vile health Secretary wants a 12 week abortion limit.

@2 The Judge

This is what happens when you let a cabal of elderly celibates (I bet) dictate your social policies.

Well you’ve just lost your bet. It’s been established that many of the so called celibates actually had a penchant for children.

@ 5 Sally

Exactly!

The only time I ever visited the Republic of Ireland was in the autumn of 1958 in the course of participating in a student debating tournament. During one of the receptions, I became embroiled in an argument with an Irish student at UCD over the policy there of censoring books in the university library, which seemed absolutely outrageous to me. Medical textbooks on gynecology and obstetrics were especially at risk of censorship of any sections dealing with contraception, abortion and anaesthesia during childbirth. Because of the policy of the Catholic church, medical students were not permitted to cover such subjects.

Years later in the early 1960s as a graduate, I recall listening to a BBCTV interview with Edna O’Brien who recounted how she had moved from Ireland to settle in London to pursue her career as a writer here. As a young woman in Ireland, she had published a novel: Country Girls, which had attracted glowing reviews in the literary press and had become something of a best-seller in western Europe – I had already greatly enjoyed reading the book. The book was banned in Ireland.

You can’t get an abortion in the UK part of Ireland either. If Ireland doesn’t want abortion that’s their choice in my opinion. I don’t agree with it, but it’s not my place to tell them how to live.

The only time I ever visited Ireland was in 1993. I went to Dublin where there was a gay film festival in the arty district and condoms in vending machines.

11. Just Visiting

the Guardian quotes sources that say in Ireland the Maternal Mortality is much lower than the Uk, or most of europe: so this current incident could well be a statistical outrider, and not something on which it is wise to justify big changes. (hard to resist the voices of ‘something must be done’ of course).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/apr/12/maternal-mortality-rates-millennium-development-goals

Ireland is 6th with 5.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.

UK 23rd with 8.2

Spain (another country of catholic history) is ahead of the UK : 10th with 6.7

The Royal College of Midwives has been going on for years about a shortage of midwives while the number of births has been rising:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14859228

And the NHS is closing maternity units in local hospitals on the policy that fewer bigger units are better.

@11 There’s also Sweden, Luxembourg, Australia and Austria ahead of Ireland, so I don’t think you can take away the message you’re trying to.

@11 that’s irrelevant to this case. The morbidity and mortality stats represent overall quality of care. This case was a denial of treatment due to a law based on an ancient religious dogma.

This case was a denial of treatment due to a law based on an ancient religious dogma.

That’s just one way of looking at it. But I’m sure it’s cultural too, not just what they’ve heard from priests. Catholics in Ireland pick and choose the bits of dogma they want to follow. A huge number support gay marriage for example. Maybe they just over sentimentalise ”the unborn child”.
It’s not such a far out weird thing to do.

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 14 Cherub

Agreed. Hats off to Ireland for its low maternal mortality rate, but that’s no excuse for abandoning a woman to die.

17. Moss Staples

For feck’s sake

Bunch of bog-brained murphies.

I hope they enjoy their aids

18. Moss Staples

@2 “This is what happens when you let a cabal of elderly celibates (I bet) dictate your social policies.”

‘elderly celibates’ in the Savilonian sense I take it? Only boys rather than girls.

“wise to justify big changes.”

Deaths from ecstasy use are also statistical outriders, but this hasn’t prevented the vast majority of countries criminalising it.

In this case the “big” change is simple – legalise abortion when a women’s life in danger. If the women dies it isn’t as the pregnancy will continue anyway FFS. You could consistently oppose abortion generally and think it was justified this case.

That is, unless you are callous extreme right wing arsehole. In which case I’m sure Mitt Romney might have something to say about whether it is wise for conservatives to associate themselves with you.

“And the NHS is closing maternity units in local hospitals on the policy that fewer bigger units are better.”

Labour are doing this in the welsh NHS as well.

I’d like to see a few more facts, because there’s something deeply odd about this case. Irish law permits abortion if the mother’s life is in danger (as does mainstream Catholic teaching).

It looks much more like a straight medical malpractice point than a ‘change the law on abortion’ point.

22. Chaise Guevara

@ 21 Tim J

Are you basing that on the European law mentioned in the article, or on Irish legislation?

Well Conservatives in US and UK have been pushing to give religious right wing nuts the right to opt out of things against the teachings of their invisible cloud gods in their place of work. Allowing pharmacists to refuse to issue morning after pills, for example. Just another opt out for conservatives. In any other job, if you refuse to do your job you get fired. Not if you are a conservative fundie. If you won’t to the job of a pharmacist, go and work somewhere else. If you don’t like marrying gay people don’t apply to be someone who works in marriage offices.

The doctors in this case should be struck off because they did not carry out their oath to their patients. Once again we see Conservatives really hate woman.

24. the a&e charge nurse

[21] ‘something deeply odd about this case’ – surely you mean deeply odd about the irish medical community?
They are on record as saying;
“As experienced practitioners and researchers in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, we affirm that direct abortion is NOT medically necessary to save the life of a woman”.
http://liveactionnews.org/international/dublin-declaration-abortion-is-not-medically-necessary/

The boffins have made their position perfectly clear in the ‘dublin declaration’ – abortion is not necessary to save the mother, so how could some poor old grunt on the front line challenge the entire medical establishment, or indeed the vast majority of the irish population who remain in thrall to characters like the Rat?

In a modern western country it seems religious mumbo jumbo can still trump rational thinking.

Then there is the contrarian point of view.

Pro-choice activists have self-consciously turned Halappanavar into a symbolic victim – of Ireland’s backwardness on abortion, of the Catholic Church, of misogyny. Like all symbolic victims, she is referred to simply by her first name, Savita, and her smiling face adorns the placards held up by concerned pro-choice activists on protests-cum-vigils. She has been turned into a symbol of downtrodden Irish womanhood, with activists telling us that this could be “your sister, your mother, your daughter, your aunt, your friends, your colleagues”. “These are the lives at stake”, we are told. “We are all Savita Halappanavar.”

http://sluggerotoole.com/2012/11/15/the-pro-choice-lobbys-exploitation-of-the-savita-tragedy-could-backfire-badly/#comments

At least he’s looking beyond the protests, and at the politics of it. It’s not bad actually IMO.

Are you basing that on the European law mentioned in the article, or on Irish legislation?

From Irish case law interpretation of the constitutional provision that guarantees the right to life of the child, in conjunction with the right to life of the mother. That’s been found (in the Irish courts) to mean that abortion is legal if there is a “real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which an only be avoided by a termination of the pregnancy”.

That’s been the case literally for years (the constitutional amendment came in 1983, and the case law followed). AB&C v Ireland only found that Ireland failed to provide a clear procedure to allow a woman to find out whether she qualifies for a legal abortion – it had nothing to say about the scope of Irish abortion laws, other than that they aren’t a matter for the ECHR. Bum steer from the OP I’m afraid.

The boffins have made their position perfectly clear in the ‘dublin declaration’ – abortion is not necessary to save the mother

They’re making a semantic point, rather than a medical one though aren’t they?

“•We uphold that there is a fundamental difference between abortion, and necessary medical treatments that are carried out to save the life of the mother, even if such treatment results in the loss of life of her unborn child.”

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 26 Tim

So the issue might be that too much power is in the hands of individual doctors (or someone further up the chain of command, I don’t know the framework) to decide whether or not a woman can have an abortion?

Based solely on the text quoted, the last paragraph in your post sounds like it’s in favour of abortion in these circumstances. Sounds like it’s saying “It doesn’t count as abortion if we’re doing it to save the mother”.

24

“In a modern western country it seems religious mumbo jumbo can still trump rational thinking.”

Try this:

“Father Gabriele Amorth is indeed the exorcist, the most senior and respected member of his calling. A priest for 50 years, he is the undisputed leader of the city’s six exorcists (appointed by the cardinal to whom the Pope delegates the office of Vicar of Rome) and honorary president-for-life of the International Association of Exorcists. He is 75, small, spry, humorous, and wonderfully direct.”
http://www.boston-catholic-journal.com/an-interview-with-father-gabriele-amorth-the-church's-leading-exorcist.htm

So the issue might be that too much power is in the hands of individual doctors (or someone further up the chain of command, I don’t know the framework) to decide whether or not a woman can have an abortion?

I think the issue is that there’s no clear definition of what a “real and substantial risk” actually is. It’s the uncertainty that can lead to tragedies where the mother’s not in any real danger, and then all of a sudden she is and it’s too late. I’m not sure that a legislative amendment would help though, because the whole point of the mother’s life exception is that it will depend on its facts.

Ultimately easy examples are easy (ectopic pregnancies, say) and hard examples are hard.

Based solely on the text quoted, the last paragraph in your post sounds like it’s in favour of abortion in these circumstances. Sounds like it’s saying “It doesn’t count as abortion if we’re doing it to save the mother”.

Yes. That’s also how the Catholic Church treats the mother’s life exception – it’s not really abortion, it’s just that the baby dies as a terrible side-effect of saving the mother. “Thou shalt not kill, but need not strive over-officiously to keep alive”.

Ultimately, guess what, it’s a much more complex and conflicted topic than activists on both sides of the divide portray. And I’m in favour of a legal right to abortion, for whatever that’s worth.

Abortion is legal in Ireland if the mothers’ life is at risk due ruling in 2010 from the European Court of Human Rights. However, the Irish Government has so far failed to implement any legislation to reflect the court’s ruling.

Just as a dull legal adjunct to all this, the paragraph above is both wrong and misleading. It’s wrong because the mother’s life exception derives not from AB&C v Ireland, but from the Irish constitution, as interpreted by the Irish courts. It’s misleading because Ireland is a common law country, and there is no need to legislate to put into statute the current common law position.

What abortion advocates presumably want is for the prohibition on abortion to be removed, and for Ireland to come into line with most of the rest of Europe. The Irish Government can’t do that – as in, they don’t have the power. The general prohibition on abortion is in the constitution (8th amendment) and can only be overturned by a country-wide referendum. Polling’s pretty divided in Ireland on abortion…

31. Chaise Guevara

@ Tim J

That’s pretty much in line with what I expected – and good point about the limitations of legislation; you can’t just bring in a law saying “Doctors must make the correct decision”.

32. the a&e charge nurse

[29] ‘I think the issue is that there’s no clear definition of what a “real and substantial risk” actually is. It’s the uncertainty that can lead to tragedies where the mother’s not in any real danger, and then all of a sudden she is and it’s too late’ – in a “catholic country” it means letting your heart rule your head, even though sepsis is the leading cause of maternal death in the UK.

In this case the patient presented to Galway University Hospital on Sunday complaining of severe back pain – she was diagnosed with a threatened miscarriage and admitted – her condition never improved and according to her husband 3 separate doctors refused her request for an abortion – despite unremitting pain, vomiting, and then collapse none presumably regarded her condition as life threatening – one week following admission she died on ITU.

Why did the doctors feel it necessary to bring the country’s dominant religion into the consultation room?

33. Chaise Guevara

@ 32 a&e

“Why did the doctors feel it necessary to bring the country’s dominant religion into the consultation room?”

We don’t know for a fact that they did. Pretty damning if true though. It also makes me suspicious, to say the least, that this was allegedly told to people who would probably be seen as “not looking Christian”.

34. Chaise Guevara

…Although it also occurs to me that it could have been a fairly reasonable response if the couple asked why abortion was so restricted. The problem with out-of-context quotes.

Will people not just accept that it’s a cultural divide, and that people can oppose abortion for entirely moral reasons.
This was more likely to have been an unintended consequence due to the way the law is, but the law certainly isn’t meant to put women’s lives at risk. But some people who are pro-abortion (which is also a perfectly reasonable stance to take, and is my own too) will use this case as part of the ”culture war” against the other half of society who take a different view.
Ireland dosn’t have abortion – get over it.

A worthy cause, but I do think that it’s given rise to a lot of anti-Catholicism, such as the slogan in the photo. If you want to persuade people you need to start from a position of respect or they won’t listen.

“that people can oppose abortion for entirely moral reasons.”

Yes, and one could oppose abortion and also support the right for doctors to perform an abortion where the mother’s life is at stake (after all the baby will die anyway). It’s the extreme anti-abortion position of never allowing it under any circumstance that is the absurd and frankly disgusting view.

38. the a&e charge nurse

[35] ‘Ireland doesn’t have abortion’ – or at least it pretends it doesn’t.
Some say there about 120 each year although the god fearing state refuses to disclose proper statistics
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0904/1224323574371.html

The Irish Family Planning Association report >150,000 abortions performed in the UK were the woman concerned gave her address as the ROI – many more Irish women, it is believed, have travelled to the UK or elsewhere for an abortion (places like Holland) but do not give their actual home address.

Ireland simply cannot divorce itself from this ongoing dilemma.

39. Chaise Guevara

@ damon

Agreed that you can be pro-life for moral reasons. I get annoyed when people pretend otherwise. However, Chris below you is right – you don’t win people over by coming in guns blazing. In this case, there’s not much point writing an otherwise fairly reasonable comment if you’re going to call people “pro-abortion”. Or for that matter “anti-life” or “anti-choice” or “pro-slavery”.

There’s nothing especially precise about “pro-choice” and “pro-life” as terms. Choicers are always calling lifers liars if they support the death penalty or whatever, but they’re in no position to throw stones – I’ve never met a choicer who’s in favour of ALL choices being legal, just the choice to have an abortion within certain limits. However, these are the terms the two sides generally use to describe themselves, so they seem the most sensible ones for us all to use.

However, these are the terms the two sides generally use to describe themselves, so they seem the most sensible ones for us all to use.

The first rule of debate: Never accept your opponent’s characterization of their own position.

41. Chaise Guevara

@ 40 Cylux

“The first rule of debate: Never accept your opponent’s characterization of their own position.”

But if you insist on referring to your side as Saintly Heroes and the other side as Evil Wankers, you’re not going to have a debate at all. You’re going to have a screaming match.

By all means challenge on detail, but the fact remains that “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are not notably more or less accurate than many of the other terms used, so given the lack of precise and neutral terminology, both sides may as well use them out of courtesy. Also worth noting that they’re so widely used that people will hear them as meaning those two sides of the argument, rather than interpreting them literally. I mean, “homophobia” literally means “fear of the same” but only sad people try to derail the conversation by whinging about it.

Calling people “anti-choice” and “pro-abortion” is just mudslinging. It doesn’t help any.

From the 2011 census 84% of responders self-identify as Roman Catholic, 47% stated they were practicing Roman Catholics (incl. approx. 180,000 non-nationals).

ECHR is fine with the prohibition on abortion in Ireland and in their 2011 judgement sought codification of the Supreme Court 1993 judgement (permission to abort in cases of mother endangerment), and clearer guidance for medical professionals.

Based on reported facts, it was a judgement call on the part of the medical staff as to whether the mothers life was endangered prior to the death of the unborn, remains to be seen how clearer guidance would have produced a different outcome.

Will people not just accept that it’s a cultural divide, and that people can oppose abortion for entirely moral reasons.

Repeating a bullshit argument endlessly doesn’t make it right.

You talk about ‘culture’ as if everyone in Ireland shares the same medieval mindset. Like all cultural relativists you make the same racist assumptions that everyone from one country should be subject to the oppressive ‘morality’ of those in power – even if it kills them – because they are ignorant and know no better.

By ‘pro-abortion’ I was just meaning being pro allowing abortion. Pro-choice if you prefer.
Anyway, we know what we mean – against not allowing abortion.

This happened in Galway, and I remember being in Galway nearly 20 years ago, and I observed that the Irish branch of the SWP had put up posters around the city about the issue of abortion saying something like ”Defeat the bigots”.
The ”bigots” being I presumed, all those Irish people who were against legalising abortion.
I thought that approach sucked then and still do now.

If people in Britain want to make a fuss about what goes on in Ireland with lack of abortion provision, perhaps they should start in Northern Ireland, as the Republic beacme a seperate country because they wanted to be free of our telling them what to do.

Eh Shatterface @43? Did you miss the word ‘divide’?
Meaning that there are generally two camps of people when it comes to abortion. Those that are pro-choice and those who are’nt. That is a cultural issue in my opinion. Or you could divide it up between goodies and baddies if you wanted too.
The rest of your post isn’t much better.
I have cousins and aunties in the Republic of Ireland and I’m sure some of them are against legalising abortion. But I don’t think they are ”medieval” for having that view, while you seem to.
I just say it’s a cultural issue, like a lot of things are.

46. the a&e charge nurse

A&E charge nurse, that’s far too crude.
Even a quick glance at Wikipedia would tell you things have moved on far from that kind of simplicity.

Recognition of same-sex unions in Ireland

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recognition_of_same-sex_unions_in_Ireland

A survey carried out in 2008 showed that 84% of Irish people supported civil marriage or civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples, with 58% (up from 51%) supporting full marriage rights in registry offices.

I really don’t like some of the commenting on this story. The Guardian ran this terrible article today in the CiF section.

I am ashamed that Ireland’s medieval abortion law still stands
Blame for denying Savita Halappanavar a termination lies with all of us who keep quiet about abortion rights

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/15/ireland-medieval-abortion-law-savita

But if you insist on referring to your side as Saintly Heroes and the other side as Evil Wankers, you’re not going to have a debate at all. You’re going to have a screaming match.

If you’re unwilling to even question that someone’s position is wrong, that their self description is a gross caricature, then why are you even entering into a debate with someone? If you’re unwilling to call out such self descriptions as ‘pro-life’, ‘pro-family’, and ‘pro-marriage’ as being anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-same sex marriage (respectively), then what’s the bleeding point?
If you’re nodding your head going ‘yes, that’s you’ you’ve already lost.

49. Chaise Guevara

@ 47 Cylux

OK, I admit that I would be less inclined to let “pro-family” and “pro-marriage” pass without comment. I also have to admit that this is at least in part driven by bias, because homophobia pisses me off like almost nothing else on earth. Not sure why.

Two things, though. Firstly, in the case of “pro-life”, the other side is using a term that is equally euphemistic, if not more so. I don’t think that applies with your other examples.

Secondly, like I mentioned earlier, “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are so well known that they don’t really have any rhetorical impact on anyone in the centre. Whereas those other terms are being used to try to create that effect. I probably would have found -life and -choice objectionable when first coined, but now they’re just names for sides.

50. Chaise Guevara

@ damon

“By ‘pro-abortion’ I was just meaning being pro allowing abortion. Pro-choice if you prefer.
Anyway, we know what we mean – against not allowing abortion.”

Fair enough, dude. Sorry, you hit one of my pet peeves there. No offence intended.

@Chaise – as an aside I anticipate and expect a questioning of the term pro-choice in debates too.

52. Chaise Guevara

@ 51 Cylux

Fair enough – I just think that it’s one of many old, old rows in this debate, and probably the one in least need of being rehashed. They’re both imprecise, but we all know what they mean.

Otherwise we end up having to say/type pro-the-right-to-have-an-abortion-within-certain-restrictions and pro-the-right-to-life-of-the-unborn-with-certain-exceptions every time, which is a bit of a hassle.


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