London ~ Wednesday November 14 2012
Savita Halappanavar's medically unnecessary death
In the worst way possible, a woman refused a life-saving abortion in Ireland has proved 'pro-life' advocates wrong
By Jill Filipovic for Feministe, part of the Guardian Comment Network
A pro-choice rally in London in 2008 campaigning for the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. (Graeme Robertson)
"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 agonising pain, eventually shaking, vomiting and passing out. She again asked for an abortion and was refused, because the foetus 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 foetus, which had no chance of survival, still had a heartbeat. Its right to life quite literally trumped hers.
US 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 Jodie 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 honour of Savita Halappanavar; in honour of the nearly 22 million women worldwide each year who endure unsafe abortion; in honour 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 honour 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 whether or with whom they have children, we can fight back. In honour 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 liberalise 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
London ~ Saturday 17 November 2012, page 30
Savita Halappanavar's death has transformed Irish abortion debate
Abortion is now part of Irish life – what is needed is a referendum on giving women easier access By Goretti Horgan
Protesters with pictures of Savita Halappanavar outside the Irish parliament. (Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
It was one of those "I told you so" moments you hope never to have. It's almost 30 years since pro-choice campaigners warned that the 1983 amendment to the Irish constitution guaranteeing "the right to life of the unborn" would put women's lives at risk. But we always hoped it wouldn't happen.
There have been other cases – Sheila Hodges and Michelle Harte both died of cancer aggravated by pregnancy – but none as stark as the death of Savita Halappanavar. And far too many women have had to travel to England gravely ill, medical notes from their doctors under their arms.
It's 20 years since the 1992 X case, when the Dublin high court prevented a 14-year-old rape victim from travelling to England for an abortion. Thousands of mainly young women and men took to the streets to demand: "let her go", and shook the Irish establishment to its core. With mass anger swirling around, the supreme court ruled that the girl had a right to an abortion in Ireland because her life was at risk through the threat of suicide.
Two referenda were held as a result, in 1992 and 2002, to try to set aside the threat of suicide as grounds for a legal abortion. The government was defeated in both. Since the X case, there has been a sea change in attitudes to abortion. Presented with a real-life woman rather than an abstract idea, people looked at their sisters, mothers, daughters, friends and thought: "I can trust her; if she says she needs an abortion, she does".
The 1992 referendum also guaranteed women the right to travel for abortion. Following that, the number of women travelling to England rose from 4,402 in 1993 to 6,673 in 2001. The numbers have fallen, thanks to a government campaign promoting contraception. As one who sold illegal condoms at rock festivals in the early 1980s, I smile when the condom ads come on TV.
The terms of the debate have transformed. Phone-in programmes hear women telling how they raised the money to travel for an abortion and asking why they can't get abortions here. Earlier this year, four women appeared on Irish TV's most-watched chatshow asking why they had been forced to travel to England to end pregnancies despite being told the foetus could not live after birth.
No referendum has ever offered Irish people the opportunity to vote for less restrictive abortion. Yet, a 2004 survey by the government-funded Crisis Pregnancy Agency found that 90% of 18- to 45-year-olds support abortion in certain circumstances, with 51% saying women should have the right to an abortion.
Many working-class Irish women, unable to afford to pay for a private abortion in England, buy pills from the internet and self-induce abortions. In 2012, abortion is part of Irish life.
Within hours of the Irish Times journalist Kitty Holland breaking the news of Halappanavar's death, 2,000 people gathered outside the Irish parliament to demand legislation for abortion. Public opinion is largely pro-choice. What's needed is another referendum: this time to allow easier access to abortion.
And the problem is not limited to the Irish republic. In Northern Ireland, the law is still as it was in England before the Abortion Act 1967. Essentially, women in Northern Ireland are treated the same way as in the republic when they need an abortion. Very ill women get their medical notes to bring to England. Hundreds of illegal abortions take place in this part of the "United Kingdom" every year – safe abortions using pills bought over the internet, but illegal nonetheless. Abortion is very much part of Northern Irish life, too.
Thursday's Belfast Telegraph editorial asked whether a similar tragedy could happen north of the border: doctors there also have "to interpret an imprecise law every time they consider performing an abortion".
All of Northern Ireland's main trade unions support a woman's right to choose. And all the indications are that public opinion would back a more liberal law.
When, in 2008, manoeuvring at Westminster prevented a vote on the extension of the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland, the Alliance for Choice said women's lives were being left in the hands of "an evangelical Taliban". Today, the DUP health minister's party has several senior figures who are part of a self-styled "Caleban"; they are members of the Caleb Foundation, an evangelical group that urges politicians to "take their stand against policies which are at variance with the word of God".
If the situation in the republic exposed by the death of Halappanavar is not good enough, how can it be good enough for women in any part of the UK?
Goretti Horgan is a lecturer in social policy at the University of Ulster and a pro-choice campaigner
London ~ November 18 2012
Irish demand reform to abortion law
Anger grows after dying woman's pleas for a termination ignored
By David McKittrick
An unprecedented surge of public anger in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist living in Galway, now seems to have made it inevitable that politicians in Dublin will be forced to ease restrictions on abortion in the Irish Republic. Ten thousand protesters marched through the capital yesterday, chanting "never again", before holding a minute's silence and a candle-lit vigil outside Prime Minister Enda Kenny's offices.
Outrage has swept the country after Mrs Halappanavar's death in a Galway hospital from blood poisoning following a miscarriage at 17 weeks. Her husband, Praveen, said she deteriorated after being repeatedly refused a termination of her pregnancy, even though her baby was not viable.
Official inquiries are under way into the incident, which has received much international publicity and caused political uproar. The most vexing issue is whether the death was attributable purely to the law – which prohibits abortion except in cases such as Mrs Halappanavar's – or its interpretation by hospital staff.
It is already clear that the Irish government will have to bow to public opinion. One minister admitted "action in some shape or form" will be taken. Dublin has also been under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights which has handed down a judgment criticising the Republic's current law on abortion.
India's ambassador to Ireland, Debashish Chakravarti, met government officials in Dublin on Friday to press for an "independent and transparent" investigation.
The anger was palpable on streets near Galway University hospital. An elderly woman, Fran Hosty, became agitated when asked about the incident. She said: "I think it's despicable, the Lord between us and all harm, that in 2012 something like that could happen. To let a young, beautiful woman suffer like that, I can't bear to think about it."
Another woman, Rita Brady, said: "It's absolutely terrible. I don't fully agree with abortion but in cases like this, yes I do. To lose her life like that just brings tears to your eyes."
Tony Small, an elderly musician, shook his head: "How sad, how tragic, how untimely. Why aren't we up to date with these matters?"
A 19-year-old female student held a different view, saying: "I'm not in favour of abortion. I just don't agree with it. I'm sure all my friends would be in favour of it, though." But another student declared: "I've never been more ashamed of the country."
Samuel Ferry, 21, from Donegal, said: "A woman died in this city while begging for her life. They need to take action on this. Any time you want to move society forward even a little bit, it takes something horrible like this."
Twenty years ago, a legal ruling established that abortion could be permitted where a mother's life was at risk. But six successive governments have ducked the issue. The resulting confusion has meant, in the words of a senior obstetrician, that doctors fear criminal prosecution, feeling they have a sword of Damocles over their heads.
~~~~~~~ London ~ Wednesday November 14 2012
Ireland's abortion ban: a history of obstruction and denial
The horrific case of a woman dying in Galway underlines the need for reform, but any change in the law carries political risk By Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
Pro-life campaigners in Dublin protest last year against a bill proposing the legalisation of abortion. The bill did not succeed. (Niall Carson/PA)
An amendment to Ireland's constitution in 1983 states that the embryo, even at the point of conception, is an Irish citizen enjoying the full rights of every man, woman and child living in the republic.
The constitutional change, brought in after pressure from well-funded religious right pressure groups, appeared to copper-fasten Ireland's near-total ban on abortions in the state. There are limited circumstances when abortions can take place but these are extremely rare.
The ban means thousands of Irish women seeking terminations for all kinds of reasons, including victims of rape and incest as well as for babies who would be born dead or suffer medical defects, have been forced to travel across the Irish Sea to have abortions in Britain. Since the creation of the Irish state in 1921, Ireland has simply exported its problem to Britain and for decades officialdom ignored its existence.
Abortion was first outlawed under British rule in Ireland in 1861 and can lead to a sentence of life imprisonment, but according to the Irish Family Planning Association, since 1980 at least 138,000 women have gone abroad, mainly to England, to obtain abortions.
The first breach in the wall of silence around abortion came about in 1992 when a 14-year-old rape victim attempted to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy. The Irish government, on the advice of the attorney general, sought initially to prevent her from travelling out of the country. The prospect of a modern European republic seeking to deny a child from leaving the country, and in turn forcing her to endure pregnancy brought on by rape, produced one of the most famous images of the early 1990s. Martin Turner's cartoon depicted a child inside the 26 counties of the Irish Republic shut off by barbed wire and the caption: "The re-introduction of internment … for 14 year old girls."
The 14-year-old in what became known as the X-case was eventually able to leave the country because her legal team evoked legislation contained within the European convention on human rights on the right to travel within the EU – a convention Ireland signed on joining the EEC back in 1973.
Europe and the human individual rights enshrined within various European conventions has been the route Irish women have gone down to try to challenge the abortion ban. In 2009, three unnamed Irish women known as A, B and C sued the Irish government in the European court of human rights claiming the ban usurped their rights as EU citizens.
"All three women complain that the impossibility for them to have an abortion in Ireland made the procedure unnecessarily expensive, complicated and traumatic. In particular, that restriction stigmatised and humiliated them and risked damaging their health and, in the third applicant's case, even her life," their statement to the court read at the time.
The court agreed with the women and ordered the then Irish government to legislate for abortion in certain circumstances. After the fall of the Fianna Fail-Green party coalition, the new administration of Fine Gael and Labour inherited the problem.
Labour is in favour of legislating to relax the absolute ban on abortion. However, Fine Gael, which has its roots in Catholic rightwing nationalism, is divided on the issue. While many urban Fine Gael Dail deputies in liberal-minded constituencies in Dublin are willing to support limited reform, the party's rural base where conservative Catholic values are still strong fears a backlash from the religious right.
Radical anti-abortion groups such as Youth Defence have threatened to picket the constituency surgeries of Fine Gael deputies in rural parts of Ireland and have embarked on a slick, well-funded PR campaign to scare the main governing party from daring to legislate on abortion.
Reform-minded ministers are under further pressure from a separate group of Irish women who spoke openly and on the record (at one time unthinkable due to fear and intimidation) to the Guardian earlier this year about their predicament. The Terminations for Medical Reasons group is made up of women who speak openly about being forced to travel to England for abortions because their babies would have died almost immediately in birth. The group has described the abortion ban as "horrific and barbaric".
There has since been a further crack in the wall of denial built around the abortion issue in the Irish Republic. Marie Stopes's decision to open up a clinic in Belfast that will carry out non-medical abortions for up to nine weeks of pregnancy offers the opportunity for some women in crisis pregnancies to terminate them on the island of Ireland for the first time. It offers the same unprecedented choice to women in Northern Ireland, where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply, although abortions are carried out in some rare cases inside hospitals in the province where a woman's life is directly under threat.
The horrific case of Savita Halappanavar in Galway will underline the need for reform south of the border although any change in the law is a huge political gamble for the current coalition. However, the present government does have some space not afforded to any other administration in the past. When the religious right forced through the 1983 constitutional amendment the Catholic church was a powerful and feared force throughout the land. Barring a few leftwing deputies, few if any Irish politicians would have said boo to a bishop let alone dare suggest the church's stance on abortion was wrong. Since the deluge of dirt started to cascade over the Catholic church in the way it covered up paedophile priest scandals and child abuse stories the hierarchy's reputation has been shredded in the eyes of the majority of the republic's population.
Dublin ~ Monday November 12 2012
An avoidable tragedy?It is not possible to say categorically that earlier medical intervention to end Savita Halappanavar’s pregnancy by “expediting delivery” of her miscarrying foetus would definitely have saved her life. Medical science is not that certain. Septicaemia can take hold fast, uncontrollably, and devastatingly. But earlier intervention could have saved her life, and it would have been available to her in many other hospitals (although, for theological rather than medical reasons, not defined as an “abortion”).
There are profound questions raised by this tragic death for the hospital and its obstetric team about the management of this case and its protocols, and for the Medical Council about the ambiguity of its guidelines or its failure to ensure that they are fully understood. There is also an unarguable imperative on the Government to clarify the legal position .
An early medical intervention, according to the testimony of husband Praveen Halappanavar, appears to have been ruled out by attending doctors because a foetal heartbeat was still being recorded. Such an interpretation of their ethical obligations to the foetus, it is certainly arguable, perhaps unfortunately, may well be in line with the constitutional prohibition on abortion except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother. Medical Council ethical guidelines also allow that “In ... exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.
Was the view being taken by the medical team that, although in deep discomfort and pain and bearing a foetus that could not go to term, and despite the subsequent outcome, Savita Halappanavar’s life was not actually threatened in the early stages of her crisis, even if the life-threatening possibilities were inherent in her condition? Were they therefore constrained not to perform an abortion?
The problem is that such a good faith medical diagnosis, which may well vary from hospital to hospital as a report in this paper yesterday pointed out, draws us into a grey, and perhaps unjusticiable, area of the current law. And it begs questions not so much about the conduct of the Galway medical team as about the inadequacy of the Constitution’s already controversial provisions. Would the Irish people really wish to deny a woman in her position an abortion when, legally speaking, her life could not be said to be in jeopardy?
Which brings us to the imminent report of the expert group on abortion and its proposals for belatedly putting the constitutional provision into law. The sooner the Government can bring clarity to the legal morass that this case and others have exposed, the better. But, in reality, it may bring cold comfort to those moved by the appalling plight of Savita Halappanavar.
Dublin ~ Friday November 16 2012
Culture of secrecy and silence brought us to this sorry placeBy Liz McManus
WE don't know the precise details of Savita Halappanavar's death, but we know she was denied medical intervention in an Irish hospital. Her request for an abortion was denied, according to her husband, on the grounds that Ireland is a Catholic country and that she could only be induced if there was no foetal heartbeat.
It is incorrect to describe Ireland as a Catholic country. It is a Republic, one that is increasingly multicultural. It is also untrue to say that a foetal heartbeat is the barometer on whether an abortion can be carried out. The Constitution fulfils that role. It provides that a woman has a right to an abortion where there is a real and substantial threat to her life.
Savita spent her last days in agony. Then this beautiful, gifted, young woman died. It is a tragedy that has resonated deeply with the public who have come in sympathy onto the streets across Ireland.
There has been a public outcry before. On the X Case, the C Case and, more recently, the ABC Case. There have been protest marches and stormy debates in the Dail. There have been two referenda.
Twenty years have passed since the X Case. The decision of the Supreme Court still stands: to grant the right to women to have an abortion where there is a real and substantial threat, including self-destruction, to her life.
Since 1992 there has been a Constitutional imperative to legislate, but it has been ignored by successive governments. At the time of the judgment, Mr Justice McCarthy of the Supreme Court asked what were pregnant women and doctors to do without legal clarity? We are still waiting for that clarity.
A 1995/96 report by the Constitution Review Group chaired by TK Whitaker recommended legislating in line with the X Case. Nothing happened. In 2000 the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, of which I was a member, published its report on abortion. We heard from the anti-abortion and pro-choice organisations, from the clergy and the Muslim faith, from medical professionals and academics.
What struck me forcibly at the time was that we never heard from a woman who either had an abortion, or had been denied one. Silence and secrecy were the hallmarks of that experience. They still are.
The report reflected the divergent views of committee members, but we did agree on one proposal. A strategy to reduce the number of women travelling for abortions through prevention and support measures was outlined. Subsequently, the overall rate had been reduced, but abortion is still a significant part of Irish life. We just don't talk about it. Each day, 12 women travel abroad to access abortion services.
In Irish hospitals, when there is a clear-cut threat to a woman's life an abortion is carried out. But absolute certainty, generally, is not a feature of medical practice. Doctors have referred to this grey area. That's why legal clarity is vital. It is a situation that serves nobody well. It leaves women at risk of death and doctors at risk of criminal action.
Interestingly, the medical profession has moved on the issue. The Medical Council guidelines specify that an abortion is permitted in certain circumstances. The people have moved on too. Opinion polls have identified increasing support for legislation in line with the X Case.
This is a test for the Oireachtas. The European Court of Human Rights requires a report from the Irish Government. The Government can seize this chance to prove we are facing up to our responsibilities.
Such a new approach could incorporate: a reduction in the timeframe of the investigations into Savita's death; immediate publication of the report of the expert group set up by the Government, and a commitment to introduce legislative certainty in line with the X Case within a specified timeframe.
The pro-life, pro-choice arguments can be put aside for another day. Legislation will not change the current situation on abortion. It simply gives it clarity.
The children at the time of the Supreme Court decision have grown up. Some are young women now, of child-bearing age. They deserve our protection. Just like Savita did.
Dublin ~ Thursday November 15 2012
Trappings of civilisation can't cloak our medieval practices Savita Halappanavar
By Martina Devlin
IS it time to get angry yet? High time. Fury is the only sane and logical response to proof that, despite the paraphernalia of modernity, Ireland operates as a medieval society.
Justifiable anger – precipitating a demand for fast-tracked legislation – is the appropriate reaction to the death of a woman in an Irish hospital, who was refused a termination and went on to miscarry her baby.
We don't know if Savita Halappanavar may have lived had she been given the termination she asked for repeatedly, after medics at Galway University Hospital advised her 17-week pregnancy wasn't viable.
But we do know she requested treatment, which was denied to her – a shameful occurrence in a State which lays claim to membership of the civilised world. Religious beliefs have no place in medicine.
The lack of legislative guidance places hospital staff in legal limbo. They run the risk of being exposed to negligence claims due to uncertainty about the specific circumstances in which medical intervention is permissible.
Let's direct the responsibility to the appropriate authority, however: the political class. Ultimately, the failure to meet 31-year-old Savita's wishes was political rather than medical.
For 20 years, one administration after another – we're at government number seven since the 1992 X Case ruling – has flinched from clarifying the circumstances in which abortion is permissible. It's the ultimate act of political cynicism.
To say legislation is long overdue is an understatement – even following recent pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, delay-delay-delay has been the order of the day.
That's because abortion remains a turbulent flashpoint which divides like no other in our society. For some, it is indefensible under every set of conditions – even the chance of preserving a mother's life.
While the Supreme Court has ruled that abortion is legal when the life of a pregnant woman is at risk, the State has failed to legislate accordingly. This has left a grey area into which hospitals are afraid to stray.
However, such a situation can no longer be allowed to continue. Savita makes a compelling case. But it's also important to remember that she is so much more than simply an example of why official cowardice has been wrong. She was a beautiful, intelligent and beloved young woman whose life was cut short.
Act of God? Maybe. Inaction of humankind? Smacks of that, too. But her husband was brave enough to speak out because he wanted her death to achieve something.
So let's honour her life, and his courage, by not allowing the political class to choose inaction above action for another two decades. Let's not leave medics in no-man's land any longer.
In Savita's case, it appears they felt unable to carry out the procedure she requested while there was a foetal heartbeat. This, even though hospitals are the antithesis of letting nature take its course – hospitals are about intervention in the hopes of saving lives.
Except our merciless, medieval Ireland of 2012 hasn't fully taken that on board yet.
How deplorable – and yet how oddly inevitable, because it's true to past form – that it should take something as stomach-churning as a pregnant woman's death to concentrate minds on this.
So far, we're hearing a lot about various investigations. We don't need those delaying tactics, we need legislation.
It ought to be advanced as a matter of urgency to implement the wishes of the people, as expressed by referendum.
Mind you, that result apparently escaped a group of 15 Fine Gael TDs, who seem to believe they have veto powers over the findings of an expert group on abortion, whose report is now on the Health Minister's desk.
Earlier this year, the deputies insisted the report should be brought to the parliamentary party before going to Cabinet, which strikes me as an undemocratic desire to block any recommendations they dislike from an independent body.
And on the subject of special interest groups butting in, the Catholic bishops spring to mind. They have short memories for the outrageous abuse of power perpetrated by the organisation they represent, as they busily opine on the sanctity of a child's life.
Their predecessors in the Catholic hierarchy showed scant concern for children's lives when it continually prioritised the protection of its own institution above the safety of trusting young victims.
Let no one doubt the high level of influence which the Catholic Church continues to exercise in Ireland. And the high level of blindness among its upper echelons. On Tuesday, writing in the 'Irish Times', Bishop of Killala John Fleming said: "Ireland, without abortion, is recognised as one of the safest countries in the world to be a pregnant mother."
Tell that to Savita's grieving widower.
No one would claim abortion is desirable. But sometimes it is necessary.
Currently, a vacuum exists and Ireland is no place to be a pregnant woman. Her life matters less than her unborn child's – an inhumane stance, however many trappings of civilisation a country drapes itself in.
It's an act of rank hypocrisy for Ireland to take up its newly-won seat on the UN Human Rights Council in the wake of Savita's death. Her human rights ran a poor second behind Ireland's official definition as an uber-Catholic State.
Dublin ~ Thursday November 15 2012
Sickened at 20-year wait for lawBy Dearbhail McDonald
I AM a 35-year-old woman living in Ireland, the celebrated "Catholic country" basking in global praise for its elevation, this week, to the UN Human Rights Council.
Next January, Ireland, that "fearless champion", will strut its stuff on the international stage playing an active role in promotion of human rights.
Maybe Savita Halappanavar should be the first item on the council's agenda.
Like many women in Ireland, I woke up yesterday to the shocking news that Savita, whose 17-week-old pregnancy was doomed, died after her medically supervised miscarriage went wrong.
I do not know the full circumstances leading up to her death. But we know that in her final days, Savita (31) asked those treating her – as she endured her harrowing miscarriage – to induce her in order to accelerate and bring to an end her physical and mental agony.
Savita had accepted that her pregnancy was hopeless.
According to her husband, she was told that this Ireland is "a Catholic country", – and as long as there was a foetal heartbeat there was nothing they could do.
It's hard to explain the depth of anger and sorrow Savita's death has ignited in me – a visceral rage that has reduced me, and many of my friends, to tears of exasperation and despair.
All of us thinking: that could have been me.
All of us thinking: why haven't we sorted out this mess? For 20 years, successive governments have refused to legislate in the wake of the infamous X case involving a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant as the result of rape.
The late Supreme Court Judge Niall McCarthy berated politicians over their "inexcusable failure" to introduce appropriate laws with regard to abortion.
The Supreme Court also castigated the State, insisting it was not the job of judges to programme society.
It is not.
In the absence of a law, the Supreme Court came up with a convoluted formula which says that abortion is permissible here if it's established that there is a real and substantial risk to the life – as distinct from the health – of the mother which can be avoided only by the termination of pregnancy.
It's not a perfect formula, but its the only thing we've got and its the law – one that sought to distinguish between life-saving terminations and so-called social ones.
But in the 20 years since the X case, no government – not one – has given legal effect to the existing Constitutional right to abortion.
I am the same age as X, and I wonder how she must have felt watching the anonymous alphabet soup of women who followed her into the courts in Ireland and elsewhere, seeking clarity of the law.
I travelled to Strasbourg two years ago, to the European Court of Human Rights to hear the A,B, C cases.
And I listened with amusement, then horror, as Ireland's Government – through its legal representation – told a full chamber of judges that in rare cases when there was a risk to a mother's life there was "a very clear and bright blue line" provided by Irish law that was neither difficult to understand nor apply.
The European Court put a red line through that bright blue line fiction, criticising the Government for leaving our courts with a lack of clear information regarding lawful abortions.
Regardless of where we each stand on this perennially divisive issue, the need for a compassionate and clear legal infrastructure is overwhelming.
For God's sake, it's what this Catholic country needs.
Dublin ~ Thursday November 15 2012
Time for Government to stop talking and legislateBy
OPINION: The news of Savita Halappanavar’s death in appalling circumstances is a wake-up call for legislators
No more inaction. For 20 years now the lives of Irish women have been put at risk by the failure of successive governments to legislate for the X case.
The news this week of Savita Halappanavar’s death in appalling circumstances at University Hospital Galway is a wake-up call for legislators. The heartbreaking account of her final days, as expressed in the dignified words of her husband, has generated immense grief and outrage nationally. It has also generated a strong sense of shame. It is utterly shameful that our State could have failed a young woman and her family so tragically.
The saddest and most shameful thing of all is that deaths of pregnant women in circumstances such as these were predictable once the 1983 amendment to the Constitution was passed, equating the right to life of the “unborn” with that of the pregnant woman.
That year, Sheila Hodgers died in Drogheda having been refused necessary medical treatment because of her pregnancy. But it took the X case, 20 years ago, to make people see the real implications of the 1983 amendment – that it could mean the refusal of life-saving medical treatment to pregnant women or girls in order to preserve the life of the foetus. The Supreme Court ruled then that because X was suicidal the pregnancy threatened her life, and her right to life should prevail.
The test means abortion is lawful where a woman faces a “real and substantial risk to her life” which can be avoided only by termination of her pregnancy – but no guidance is given to doctors on how to assess “real and substantial risk”.
In his X case judgment, the late Mr Justice Niall McCarthy asked a series of questions that have particularly poignant resonance this week.
Pointing out that the people, in passing the referendum in 1983, were entitled to believe legislation would be introduced to regulate how the right to life of the unborn and that of the pregnant woman could be reconciled, he said: “The failure by the legislature to enact the appropriate legislation is no longer just unfortunate; it is inexcusable. What are pregnant women to do? . . . What are the medical profession to do? They have no guidelines save what may be gleaned from the judgments in this case . . . The amendment . . . remains bare of legislative direction.”
Twenty years on, the amendment remains bare of legislative direction. For those 20 years the debate has been dominated by a group of highly vocal lobbyists, backed by the Catholic Church – the so-called pro-life campaign.
Their intimidatory tactics – currently targeted at Fine Gael deputies and Senators – have scared politicians away from legislating. Over the past few days I have listened in disbelief to their smooth spokespeople arguing that what we really need is yet another referendum to overturn the X case. They also insist abortion is never necessary to save women’s lives – and when it is, they don’t call it abortion.
It is time to confront these discredited arguments. Time to face up to the bullying tactics of those who would seek to return us to a time when Catholic doctrine was enshrined in our law; and to acknowledge the disgraceful failure of our political system to acknowledge the pressing reproductive health needs of women – pregnant women with cancer, such as Michelle Harte; and women who have bravely gone public about their experience of fatal foetal abnormality.
The “pro-life” campaign must not be allowed hijack this debate again. They did so after the X case, and pressed the government into holding a referendum in November 1992 to rule out suicide risk as a ground for abortion. It was defeated. In March 2002, following more anti-choice pressure, a referendum to overturn the X case test was again put to the people. Again the people voted to keep the test. Yet still no legislation.
Mr Justice McCarthy’s words were echoed by the European Court of Human Rights in the ABC case in December 2010. It found the State had breached the human rights of a young woman whose pregnancy posed a risk to her life but who had been forced to travel to England. The court stated the need for a “legislative or regulatory regime providing an accessible and effective procedure by which [she] could have established whether she qualified for a lawful abortion in Ireland”.
The report of the Government’s expert group on how to implement the judgment of the European court has coincidentally been delivered to Minister for Health James Reilly this week. It was originally expected to be ready by the end of June; that was the understanding of the Labour TDs who voted against Clare Daly’s Bill in the Dáil in April. I was heartened then by the words of the Minister, affirming that this would not be the seventh government to fail to legislate since the X case.
This week we have learned a stark lesson about the urgency of legislation. The report must be acted upon swiftly. It should be given to Cabinet next week. The Government has a deadline of November 30th to report to the Council of Europe on the implementation of the ABC judgment. A firm proposal for Government legislation needs to be made by that date.
Such legislation must be supported by all Government TDs and Senators – and should also be supported by the Opposition. It must clarify the principles outlined by the Supreme Court in 1992, affirmed by referendums and given expression in current Medical Council guidelines.
Legislation is necessary to fulfil our international responsibilities, to provide clarity in our law and most importantly to prevent any further uncertainty for doctors. We need to give doctors clear instructions as to when the performance of necessary procedures, including abortion, may be carried out to save the lives of pregnant women.
The courts have spoken. The people have spoken. A young woman has died tragically. It’s time for us to stop talking and legislate.
IVANA BACIK is a Labour Party Senator
Dublin ~ Friday November 16 2012
'My wife can rest in peace if these laws are changed'
Savita Halappanavar died after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia By Louise Hogan
THE devastated husband of Savita Halappanavar has spoken of his hopes his caring wife will rest in peace if Ireland's abortion laws are changed.
Her parents also added their voice to the growing international storm over regulations governing terminations in Ireland as they hit out at the laws they believe have cost them the life of their only daughter.
Amid growing pressure on the Government, her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer with Boston Scientific in Galway, praised the support he has received "from all over".
"My main objective is that they should change the law so it won't happen to someone else. I know Savita won't come back but I hope that she will rest in peace, you know, if they change the law," Mr Halappanavar said.
Mrs Halappanavar (31), originally from Belgaum in India, died from septicaemia a week after she began to miscarry and asked for a termination at University College Hospital in Galway.
Speaking from her home, her mother Akkamahadevi and her husband Andaneppa Sangappa Yalagi have been highly critical of the regulations.
"How many more cases will there be? The rules should be changed as per the requirement of Hindus. We are Hindus, not Christians," her mother said.
Her husband said he was looking forward to seeing the outcome of the internal hospital investigation and HSE inquiry.
"We are all curious really about what exactly went wrong and then maybe looking at putting some pressure to change the regulations," he said.
Mrs Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she arrived at the hospital on October 21 complaining of back pain. The couple were informed the baby she was expecting would not survive.
However, it was only on Wednesday, October 24, that the foetal heartbeat stopped and the foetus was removed.
Mrs Halappanavar's condition deteriorated and she died from septicaemia at 1.10am on Sunday, October 28.
Her husband recalled that she asked medics to carry out a medical abortion or induce her but were told it was a Catholic country and against regulations.
"They never mentioned anything about a risk to Savita until she was taken to ICU, all they ever focused on was the baby," her husband told the Irish Independent.
"Basically everyone back home here (in India), her family and friends, everyone can't believe it in the 21st Century in a country like Ireland.
"The question they keep asking is why did they not straight away terminate her the minute they came to know that the baby won't survive. That is the question I have been asked again and again and again. I don't have the answer so they have to change that."
Mr Halappanavar also revealed she had planned to call her baby girl 'Prasa'.
One of her two brothers, Sanjeev Yalagi (32), a software engineer, spoke of his sister.
"She was a wonderful person. I'm saying this not just because she was my sister. She was a very wonderful person, she deserved to live," he said.
Her brother told how the family had believed Ireland would have more sophisticated medical treatment.
And he added that no one had contemplated such a scenario. "My sister had a belief it was a safe place to have a baby but it is very unfortunate that we came to know because of this law her life is gone. We believe even underdeveloped countries are more safe than Ireland."
Dublin ~ Thursday, November 15, 2012
Failure to legislate on X case test may cost lives Lit candles spell out the name Savita at a vigil for Savita Halappanavar outside the Opera House in Cork City last night. (Cillian Kelly)
By JAMES McDERMOTT
Analysis: The Constitution has been definitely interpreted by the Supreme Court - now it is up to the Government to act
When Zhou Enlai was asked in the early 1970s about his assessment of the French Revolution of 1789, the Chinese leader famously replied that “it is too early to say”. This has always been considered the gold standard for excessive political caution. However it may soon have a rival as successive Irish governments continue to delay in dealing with the law on abortion.
The judgments in the X case were delivered over two decades ago but it appears that it is still too early for our politicians to say what the effect of those judgments should be on our law.
Judges both in Ireland and in Strasbourg have made it crystal clear that this legislative gap is not acceptable and breaches the right of citizens to know what is the law of land. It may be that the death last month of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway will do what no amount of judicial admonishment appears capable of doing, and finally spur the legislature into action.
What makes the paralysis all the odder is that in order to comply with its legal obligations the Government does not have to come down on one side or the other of the difficult and fraught debate as to whether our abortion laws should be narrower or broader. All it has to do is to legislate for the law as it currently stands.
In the X case of 1992, then chief justice Thomas Finlay stated that “ . . . if it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health of the mother, which can only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, such termination is permissible, having regard to the true interpretation of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution”.
Given that the Constitution has been definitely interpreted by the Supreme Court as providing for such a test, there can be little genuine controversy about the Government legislating simply so as to fill in the details of that test. These necessary details would include such matters as defining what constitutes a real risk to life and setting out how many medical opinions and what medical evidence are required to fulfil that requirement in a particular case.
If anyone thinks that the current wording of the Constitution is too liberal or too conservative as regards the right to an abortion, both of which are perfectly legitimate opinions to hold, then the appropriate remedy is to seek to amend the Constitution.
However, failing to legislate for the X case test achieves nothing and potentially endangers lives since all it means is that we have a law that lacks the necessary legislative detail to permit anyone to know how to operate it safely in practice. The reason why legislation is necessary is because you cannot have a situation where a doctor standing over an operating theatre needs to consult over 50 pages of Supreme Court text spread out over five different judgments in order to work out what the law currently permits.
Instead there should be concise legislation that sets out in plain English when an abortion is and is not permissible pursuant to the X case test.
Judges have not pulled their punches as regards what they think of this legislative paralysis. In the X case itself, Mr Justice Niall McCarthy stated that the failure by the legislature to enact the appropriate legislation following the 1983 amendment to the Constitution “is no longer just unfortunate; it is inexcusable”.
In the Roche case on the status of frozen embryos heard in 2009, Mr Justice Hardiman spoke in equally blunt terms and stated that the fact that difficulties were raised did not absolve the legislature from the obligation to consider the degree of respect due to fertilised embryos and to act upon such consideration “by its laws”.
There has been a marked reluctance on the part of the legislature actually to legislate on these issues: the court simply draws attention to this. That is all it can do. That is what Mr Justice McCarthy did, apparently in vain, in the X case 18 years ago. In the same case, Mr Justice Fennelly stated that, “It is disturbing, to use no stronger word, that some four years after publication of the Report of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction, no legislative proposal has even been formulated.”
In the 2010 A, B C case, the European Court of Human Rights found this lack of legislative action incomprehensible and noted with frustration that “the Government have not explained the failure to implement Article 40.3.3 and no convincing explanations can be discerned from the reports following the recent public reflection processes”.
Quite aside from moral considerations there are also cost implications of failing to legislate, since leaving it up to the courts to make up the law on a case by case basis inevitably incurs legal bills. Thus at the conclusion of the Roche case the Supreme Court ruled the Attorney General should bear the costs incurred by both the wife and her separated husband in arguing the case in the High Court.
It is said that hard cases make bad law and nowhere is that truer than in the area of abortion. In the X case the Supreme Court had to consider the case of a suicidal 14-year-old girl who found herself pregnant as a result of a rape. In the A, B C case in Strasbourg, one of the appellants was in remission from a rare form of cancer and had become pregnant.
It is far better for the Oireachtas to debate legislation in a calm and coherent manner rather than for courts to have to develop the law on a piecemeal basis in response to ad hoc emergencies and where understandable sympathy for the individual before the court may colour the debate on the issues. Under the separation of powers, it is the job of the Oireachtas to enact laws and of judges to interpret them.
Unelected judges are uncomfortable being placed in a position where they are left to create the law themselves without any legislative guidance and this discomfort is evident in a number of the judgments delivered in the X case.
James McDermott is a barrister and lecturer in the UCD school of law
Dublin ~ Friday November 16 2012
Another reason to hang our collective heads in mortification By Kevin Myers
HERE we go again. Another day of national humiliation, another day of public mortification, another reason to hang our collective heads in shame. I make no judgment whatever on any decisions made in Galway Hospital. They remain beyond my view. What is clearly in view is the repeated failure of Dail Eireann to legislate decisively on an issue that is clearly going to remain with us, and could only have been avoided so far because dear old bloody Britain is next door to solve most of our abortion problems for us.
Look. This failure is not some departure from some norm of political accountability and moral clarity. The norm is failure. The norm is fudge. The norm is imprecision. The norm is that we only act on difficult issues when we are commanded to by Europe; so much for the "Republic".
You've probably forgotten that the only reason women have equal pay is because Europe ordered us to implement it. Incredible as it might now seem, back in the 1970s, the ICTU actually opposed equal pay – and whenever a powerful special interest group flexes its power in Ireland, politicians become strangely compliant.
Equally, our evil laws against male homosexual acts remained in place until Europe ordered us to remove them. So too did the laws against the sale of condoms. As recently as 1991, Virgin Megastore in Dublin was fined £400 for selling condoms to an undercover garda. Virgin Megastore appealed, of course – and the appeal judge increased the fine to £500, observing that he was letting Virgin off lightly. He warned that each further condom sale could lead to a £5,000 fine, with an additional fine of £250 for each single day that condoms remained on sale, with possible imprisonment for the shop manager; and this at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
The minister responsible for the law which made this ludicrous prosecution possible was that legendary celibate Charles Haughey: he who coined the immortal expression, "an Irish solution to an Irish problem".
Well, at least he acted: which is more than you can say for the hundreds of TDs who have been through Dail Eireann since the famous X Case in 1992, which concerned a teenager made pregnant through rape – in itself, yet another cause of excruciating national embarrassment. Now no one seriously considering the issue of abortion can trivialise the moral dimensions involved: but merely because something is complex does not excuse our politicians the obligation to address it.
However, knowing that abortion clinics in London are themselves a British solution to an Irish problem, and despite the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that we must have abortion laws, our politicians have been content to kick the ball into the long grass of inertia, silence and a select committee or two. For over 20 years, now.
Why? Well, the multi-seat constituency is partly responsible: TDs who stick their necks out on any controversial issue could well be destroyed – and not by opponents from another party, but by rival party colleagues. But there is a larger cultural characteristic, which defines our political classes: no coherent political will, and a chronic lack of moral courage. How else could the IRA have been able to run a campaign from this Republic for a quarter of a century, with IRA army council members living at home, and keeping office hours, as if theirs was a normal business? The long grass in this case was the Special Criminal Court, whose palsied deliberations from the 1970s on gave the appearance of action of a kind, thereby enabling the State to do as little as possible.
You might think that this is an irrelevance. It is not. The same abject failure of political will connects our repeated inability to create policies both to deal with hazardous pregnancies and with a terrorist insurgency. The two issues have much in common, for both involve deeply held feelings and both are intimately related to life and death. And in both categories, inactivity has been the preferred choice of our political classes, because that way, the unpleasant consequences of a decisive action could not be laid at their door. Any effective counter-terrorist policy must impinge on some civil liberties, and equally, any coherent policy on abortion would lead to difficult medical and moral choices. And of course, any pro-active policies on either matter might well have damaged the political careers of TDs who had taken an electorally brave stand. The end-result has been a political consensus of artful passivity and prudent silence; truly, an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
But sins of omission have consequences also. Last weekend, the Taoiseach commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Enniskillen Massacre, an atrocity that was only made possible by the pitiful failure of this State to impose its will on the IRA terror-gangs in the Border areas, throughout almost the entire Troubles. Perhaps in five years' time, some future Taoiseach and our bishops can proudly commemorate the 25th anniversary of the X Case, at Dublin Airport, aboard a Ryanair Abortion Special to London.
India ~ Saturday November 17 2012
Death in Ireland a wake-up call It has taken the death of an Indian woman to awaken the Irish government to the absurdity of its anti-abortion law that makes no provision to terminate a pregnancy even to save the life of a mother. It is only in the wake of a media uproar, and a subsequent protest outside Parliament in Dublin, that the government has promised to “bring legal clarity to this issue”. Savita Halappanavar, 31, who was miscarrying, was not allowed to abort a foetus that in any case would not have survived. The reason given by doctors was that Ireland was a Catholic country where the law did not allow abortion.
The Irish Supreme Court had in 1992 ruled that abortion was allowed if there was a threat to the mother’s life. However, this remained a matter of jurisprudence, and the government never amended the law to formally legislate on the provision. As the circumstances that warrant an abortion have not been spelled, it remains up to the doctors to decide, who may be swayed by personal belief or be so wary of the law and social sanction as to delay the termination till it is too late, as in the case of Savita. The majority in Ireland is in favour of abortion to save a mother’s life. But such has been the influence of the Catholic Church on politics in Ireland until the 1980s though now much weakened that successive governments have avoided legislating on the issue for fear of losing conservative voters.
Religion and politics can be a deadly mix, as India has experienced particularly with personal laws. No government has been able to show much spine in such matters, whether it is conversion, marriage or inheritance laws. When voters are manipulated for vested interest, reason is the first casualty. This assumes tragic proportions when matters of health and medicine get involved, as in Ireland. Science will continue to pose challenges of ethics and morality, but modern-day civilisation calls for a reasoned debate to reach decisions in which religion and human good do not impinge on each other.
London ~ Saturday 17 November 2012, page 30
Hundreds of Irish women forced to come to Britain for abortions
Amid pro-choice rally at Savita Halappanavar's death, activists reveal the rapes and illness forcing women to seek abortions By Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
Demonstrators in Delhi protest over the death of Savita Halappanavar, who was refused an abortion in Ireland. The Indian ambassador to Ireland said the dentist would still be alive in India. (Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)
Hundreds of Irish women, including dozens who had been raped, have life-threatening illnesses or are under the age of 16, have been forced to seek abortions in Britain in the past three years, a pro-choice charity said.
As campaigners prepared to gather in central Dublin on Saturday for a rally to protest against the death of an Indian woman who was refused a potentially life-saving termination in an Irish hospital, the Abortion Support Network (ASN) gave an insight into the pressures facing women with unwanted pregnancies.
The charity, which issues grants of between £20 to £700 to Irish women seeking terminations, said it had helped 335 women from the Irish Republic over the last three years – including 19 rape victims, 21 with severe health problems and 21 girls under 16. A further six had attempted suicide in the recent past, the group said.
It has also enabled 238 women from Northern Ireland to obtain abortions in England. The region is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply, although the type of emergency termination denied to Savita Halappanavar is available to women with life-threatening conditions in Northern Irish hospitals.
Mrs Halappanavar's death in University Hospital Galway from blood poisoning due to a miscarriage has refocused global attention on the near-total ban on abortion in Ireland.
Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, has described how his wife pleaded for a termination in the hospital but was told the medical team could not carry out an abortion as they had detected a foetal heartbeat.
When the 31-year-old dentist said she was a Hindu, Praveen Halappanavar said the couple were told: "This is a Catholic country." His wife died on 27 October from septicaemia. He believes it was caused by the hospital failing to abort the 17-week-old foetus, which was already dead.
India's ambassador to Ireland said on Friday that Mrs Halappanavar may be alive if she had been treated in India, where abortion is legal if the mother's life is at risk. Debashish Chakravarti said her death had caused great anguish within the Indian community in Ireland and in India.
As Ireland's politicians study an expert report into potential changes to the abortion law, the ASN released testimonies from some of the women it had helped. All them asked not to be identified for fear of intimidation or vilification in Ireland.
The charity said one woman was seven-weeks pregnant when she asked for the organisation's support in October – the same month Savita died. A recovering alcoholic and drug addict with children in foster care, she has been diagnosed as severely depressed and tried to kill herself to abort the pregnancy .
Her family had not been not very supportive and, she said, her ex-partner "doesn't want to know". On contacting the network, she said: "God forgive me for this, but I know I won't." She also had no passport but managed to borrow €80 (£65) from friends that would cover the bus and boat journey to Britain. The ASN had to help her with the funds to pay for the procedure.
Another client contacted the ASN in April, just nine months after having chemotherapy for breast cancer. She had three children and no passport. She was struggling financially, describing her situation as "desperate". She's never had a loan, and knows she wouldn't be able to keep up with the repayments if she did. She did not want to tell anyone, and told the charity workers she had no other way to get money for the termination.
A third woman contacted the group at the start of this year with this harrowing message: "Please help me. I got your website and I'm in Dublin. I'm four to five weeks pregnant. I was told I cannot get a termination here even though I am on long-term medication for a psychiatric illness since I was 14. I am 26 now.
"I'm confused. I'm highly depressed, suicidal and I just need some help – any help! I'm probably not making much sense. I'm upset and confused, feel very alone and my life is a nightmare. I'm sorry, if you could ring or email me soon as you can, thank you so much."
The ASN also recorded this message from a member of the Irish Traveller community: "I'm a Gypsy girl and we're not supposed to have intercourse before we get married.
"And if they find out they will actually kill me. I'm not kidding." She later told the Abortion Support Network that she was pregnant as a result of rape.
Commenting on the fallout from Mrs Halappanavar's death and the numbers of women contacting them, Mara Clarke, director of the Abortion Support Network, said: "I am not an expert on the abortion law in Ireland but I am an expert on what happens to women when abortion access is restricted. The avoidable, disgusting, tragic, heartbreaking story of Savita Halappanavar is what happens.
"Even if you take out the other circumstances, at the heart of this story is a young, professional, educated woman who asked her doctor for an abortion – by all accounts begged her doctor for an abortion – was refused, and then she died.
"Let's stop talking about whether or not abortion is right or wrong. When you ban abortion, you change it from being an issue of morality to an issue of class.
"The majority of the women who have contacted Abortion Support Network were religious women who believe with all their hearts that abortion is killing a baby and that they will burn eternally in hell for having an abortion. And yet they are still having abortions."
Dublin ~ Sunday November 18 2012
Legislate now, or be damned
Vincent Browne put it very crudely – and correctly – speaking on his own programme on TV3 last Thursday night. "Nobody is pro-abortion," he said. There are many things about which nobody is "pro" which take place, within the confines of the law, in our society every day. Out of necessity. Of course, nobody is "pro" abortion. But in a civilised society, nobody should have the right to deny half the population the right to make a decision, always agonising , always in extremis, always in an area of imperfect judgement, which they consider absolutely necessary.
In five short days, parliament and people have been convulsed by the abortion issue. And once more, as in 1982 and 1992, we have the spectacle of men, old and young, dancing on the head of a fallopian tube. Is legislating for the X Case opening the door to abortion on demand? Is legislating for the X Case enough – is it the doctors' right to choose by any other name? And while legislators might like it, is this a fair choice to put on doctors?
In 1986, speaking ahead of the ill-fated divorce referendum, one of the last of the Fine Gael public intellectuals, John Kelly, engaged in a crie de couer over a government that ''should even think of ... indulging in a year-long cat-fight about divorce''. Nothing epitomises the endemic adolescence of an Irish political system, which seems resolute only in a collective refusal to grow up, more than the relevance of Kelly's analysis to the consequences of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. It is, hopefully, still not too late for this debilitated State to avoid another dispiriting cat-fight over our ongoing inability to deal in a mature fashion with such 'moral issues'.
For this to be avoided, we must firstly not lose sight of the tragic fact that a young woman on the cusp of motherhood is dead. Out of respect, if that concept actually exists within our elites, an account must be rendered to her family and the citizens as to how this happened. It would be no bad thing if the rights to due process of the medical staff involved were respected too. And far more swiftly than the current leisurely three-month time-frame. As has been tragically demonstrated, procrastination is a killer.
Any ongoing national discussion should also be conducted with a great deal more dignity and honesty than the brawling disputations of the past week. But, whilst the spectacle of the deceased Savita Halappanavar being used to advance competing ideological agendas represents an atrocious coarsening of national debate, decorum should not stop us from engaging with the political issues her death has unveiled. There are some who claim that we should keep politics out of this debate. These, however, are cunning fools who actually use such a device as cover to hide their own moral cowardice for abortion, dealing as it does with life or death issues of human rights, is the most political of issues.
Politics is also applicable to the current debacle because the Princess-Diana style public fury over the death of Savita Halappanavar it is yet another consequence of a systemic failure by Irish politicians to do their job. Just like the collapse of our banks, the endemic vices of cowardice, indolence and the desire to play to the gallery have created the avoidable perfect storm of an individual tragedy, a national convulsion and international humiliation.
Sadly, despite the straightforward honesty of James Reilly and Eamon Gilmore, the will-of-the-wisp responses of the Taoiseach, have raised concerns that the old politics of a nod, wink and the sly choice of the easiest road is still in the ascendant. If this Government is any different to its predecessors, Mr Kenny must move swiftly to provide certainty and legislate or be damned.
~ Mumbai~ Monday November 19, 2012
In Savita’s death, religion and health collide, yet again
By Patralekha Chatterjee | Agency: DNA |
What happens when religious beliefs collide with medical science? Who takes the responsibility if a life is lost in the clash? These and other uncomfortable questions are being raised across the world in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian-born dentist, in Galway, Ireland.
Halappanavar, 31, arrived at the University College hospital in Galway on October 21 complaining of severe back pain. She was 17 weeks into her pregnancy and found to be miscarrying. A week later, she was dead. The reason - septicaemia or blood poisoning. What happened? For three days, Savita had reportedly asked several times that her pregnancy be terminated. Savita’s husband says the doctors at the hospital refused.
In Ireland, it is illegal to offer termination of pregnancy as a standard procedure. A doctor cannot, under any circumstances, carry out a termination of pregnancy until it is a full-blown emergency. However, waiting until an emergency can be fatal, as in this case.
Ireland, whose population is 84% Catholic, has some of the world’s most restrictive laws on abortion. The doctors are now under fire for placing faith, as embodied in the law, above Halappanavar’s well-being when they chose not to abort the foetus.
Her husband and activists say she may have survived had the foetus been removed sooner. Investigations are on to ascertain the exact circumstances leading to the death.
The tragedy may become a game-changer. Outrage at the unnecessary death of this young woman has led to mass protests within and outside Ireland.
As I write, Sara Burke, an Irish health journalist, is tweeting about the “amazing turn-out at Merrion Square” in the heart of Dublin in memory of Savita. In the last few days, candle-light vigils across Ireland and England have taken place as thousands gathered to pay tribute and demand a change in legislation.
One of the prickliest issues in the current debate is the role of doctors. Dr Peter Boylan, an eminent Irish obstetrician/gynaecologist, told me that “in circumstances where there is a real and substantial risk to the mother’s life, termination of pregnancy is legal, and performed without any dissent or problem.”
Boylan declined to comment on Savita’s death “because the full clinical details are not available” and because he had “no greater knowledge of what happened other than what is in the public domain.”
The real problem, he says,is that “doctors have to make a judgement call on the probability of death in different clinical circumstances. This gives rise to ambiguity where the risk is not immediately apparent or present.”
What happens to a doctor who puts health above the law? Boylan says, “No one has gone to jail, no one has been prosecuted and neither is likely.” However, “there is considerable uncertainty as to what we, as doctors, can actually do. It is, for example, illegal to refer a woman for a termination despite the fact that we can discuss termination as an option (eg if a lethal foetal anomaly is diagnosed). Our problems are solved by women going to the United Kingdom for terminations, and so the issues are not problematic in day to day practice. One could argue therefore that some of our laws are hypocritical.”
While the focus is on Ireland, it is not the only country confronting tensions between medical science and religious beliefs.48 states in the USA allow for exemptions from school immunization laws for religious reasons. CHILD Inc., a US-based NGO which tracks religion-based medical neglect says California allows public school teachers to refuse testing for tuberculosis on religious grounds and Ohio has a religious exemption from testing and treatment for tuberculosis – it lets parents use “a recognised method of religious healing” instead. And so on.
What about India? Our laws are not inimical to public health but there are myriad socio-cultural-religious practices that affect health adversely.
One telling example – food taboos. In a 2012 paper titled Beliefs Regarding Diet During Childhood Illness in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine, Asha Benakappa and Poojita Shivamurthy point out that 50-70% of childhood diarrhoea and respiratory infections is compounded by “food restriction during illness due to false beliefs, leading to a vicious cycle of malnutrition and infection.”
Worryingly, the researchers found that it did not help if the caregivers were better educated – harmful practices were dictated by family elders and religious beliefs. These include decreasing breast feeds, initiating bottle feeds, feeding diluted milk and reducing complementary feeds during illness. Unscientific beliefs about “hot” and “cold” foods lead to restriction of food available at home.
We need to battle such taboos, which impact maternal health, even as we pursue the probe into Savita’s death at the diplomatic level.
The author is a Delhi-based writer
Melbourne ~ Monday November 19 2012
Woman's death shows risks of putting the church before civil law
By Karen Kissane
It is said that the best way to get a bad law overturned is to enforce it. When people see its consequences, the truism goes, they will be so appalled that public support for change will build up an unstoppable head of steam.
The death of Savita Halappanavar might do just that for the women of Ireland.
Halappanavar, 31, was 17 weeks pregnant with her first, much-wanted baby when she went to Galway's University College Hospital in pain. Doctors told her that her cervix had opened and amniotic fluid was leaking. Her pregnancy was ending and there was no hope for the child.
"One person's religious freedom must end where it hurts another's right to health or happiness - or, as in [Savita] Halappanava's case, the right to life itself." (AP)
Over the next three days, in agonising pain, Halappanavar repeatedly begged for an abortion to get the miscarriage over quickly. Could doctors not induce the labour so she could give birth sooner?
According to her husband, Praveen, the consultant told them this was not possible because there was still a foetal heartbeat and ''this is a Catholic country''.
That heartbeat stopped after four days and only then was Halappanavar taken to have the contents of her womb removed. She developed septicaemia, or blood poisoning, and was dead three days later.
Obstetrics 101 tells us that sepsis is more likely if the mother's membranes stay ruptured for a long time, or if she retains ''products'' in her womb after miscarriage, termination or delivery. A dilated cervix is like a open wound.
Halappanavar's homeland of India is aghast and there have been diplomatic flurries of concern. Three separate inquiries are under way into the catastrophe and no doubt there will be findings as to whether or not medical negligence was a factor.
That was a straw eagerly clutched by some defenders of the Irish Catholic Church after the scalding rage that erupted over Halappanavar's case.
''It has nothing to do with the church,'' one deeply Catholic woman assured me sharply. ''It sounds like medical negligence. And, anyway, it happened in a state hospital.''
She was channelling Pontius Pilate washing blood from his hands. In Ireland, politics is deeply intertwined with Catholic doctrine and the institutional power of the church - and the church's tough stance against abortion has protected a near total ban on the procedure.
Ireland still has on its books 1861 legislation that makes it a crime to procure a miscarriage. A 1983 amendment to the constitution acknowledges the right to life of the unborn child but is also meant to give equal right to the life of the mother.
In 1992, Ireland's Supreme Court was forced to interpret that during the case of X, a suicidal 14-year-old rape victim. The government was trying to stop her going to Britain to abort the pregnancy that had resulted from the rape. The court ruled that if there was a substantial risk to the mother's life - her life, but not her health - it would be lawful to terminate. Irish governments have prevented that judgment from coming into effect by failing to pass laws that would affirm and clarify it.
More than 4000 Irish women each year go to Britain to end pregnancies, according to British health statistics, with almost one in 10 Irish pregnancies ending in British abortion clinics. An unknown number go to other European countries. ''Abortion tourism'', they call it.
Years ago, it could be argued that the influence of church doctrine on the Irish government was democratic - the majority believed in Catholic teachings, so it was fair enough that they were reflected in Irish law and that church leaders were consulted about planned legislation.
But that is no longer the case. A poll in The Irish Times found that 77 per cent now believe abortion should be permitted in some circumstances. Other polls have found the hold of the church is weakening more generally - 77 per cent of Irish now think there should be female priests, 90 per cent want married priests and 70 per cent say the church's teachings on sexuality are not relevant to them at all.
That is not discouraging to Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Irish church, who announced in August that he would promote a lobbying campaign involving ministers and MPs to oppose any change over abortion.
Australia's cardinal, George Pell, has expressed concern that the furore over child abuse has scapegoated the Catholic Church. The Irish pro-choice movement is not scapegoating the Catholic Church but holding it up to modern accountability.
All the major religions are guilty of some form of systematic abuse of women. Victims of rape have been executed in the name of Islam; Hinduism abandons widows to homelessness; Orthodox Jews in Israel spit on women they deem immodest and try to force women to sit down the back of buses.
The fact that a religion invokes God, claims to be a path to transcendence and offers society many benefits does not exempt it from outside scrutiny of beliefs that cause harm.
Catholic Ireland's judge is likely to be the European Court of Human Rights, which criticised the government two years ago for not having clarified the Supreme Court ruling. The Irish government then set up an expert panel to report to its health minister and the government has said it will respond at the end of this month.
This will be a moment of truth for the Republic of Ireland.
Many old-time Irish republicans believed the country couldn't come of age until it was united, with Ulster returning to the national fold. But perhaps a more important coming of age involves Ireland standing tall as a secular state where civil law can differ from, and override, canon law.
One person's religious freedom must end where it hurts another's right to health or happiness - or, as in Halappanavar's case, the right to life itself. As protesters outside the Irish Parliament last week pointed out, Halappanavar had a heartbeat, too.
Dublin ~ Saturday, November 17, 2012
When is an abortion not an abortion?
A protester outside Leinster House on Wednesday after the death of Savita Halappanavar. photograph (julien behal/pa)
By FINTAN O'TOOLE
COMMENT: Savita and Praveen Halappanavar walked unknowingly into Ireland’s grey zone of hidden realities, unspoken truths and word games
On Monday, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore greeted Ireland’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council as a “major endorsement” of the country, a sign that its battered reputation had been restored in the eyes of the world. “This is a great day for Ireland and for the values which are dear to us,” he added.
Within two days, Ireland’s values were yet again being held up around the world, not as a beacon of human rights but as a shameful departure from civilised norms. The slow, agonising and perhaps unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar seemed to many people in distant continents to signify a country in which ideology takes precedence over women’s lives.
The two events were actually related, albeit in the most ironic way.
When it looked at Ireland in 2007, the UN Committee on Human Rights criticised Ireland’s failure to clarify its abortion laws, reiterating “its concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in the State” and regretting “that the progress in this regard is slow”.
In its draft report on the progress made since then, the Government states that abortion is actually legal in Ireland but adds that no statistics are maintained in relation to the “number of abortions taking place in Ireland each year”.
The Economic and Social Research Institute has pointed out that some information is available in statistical form, under the heading of “Pregnancy with abortive outcome”.
However, the bizarre official position is: abortions happen in Ireland, but we don’t count them. If Savita Halappanavar had indeed had the abortion she asked for, it would not even have appeared as a number on an official spreadsheet.
This position was also argued by the previous government before the European Court of Human Rights in the case of A, B and C versus Ireland. The government told the court there was nothing at all murky about Ireland’s abortion laws: “The procedure for obtaining a lawful abortion in Ireland was clear. The decision was made, like any other major medical matter, by a patient in consultation with her doctor.”
But when the court requested basic details, the government was unable to supply them. Asked by the court how many of these “lawful abortions” take place in Ireland every year, the government, as the court put it, “revealed a lack of knowledge on the part of the State as to, inter alia, who carries out lawful abortions in Ireland and where”.
This is the Irish solution to an Irish problem. Under the X case ruling, it is, as the government’s lawyers pleaded, “lawful to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland if it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which can only be avoided by a termination of the pregnancy”. But this lawful activity is the subject of wilful ignorance. No one in the State officially knows who is carrying out abortions, how many they are performing and which hospitals will or will not perform them. The State’s considered position appears to be: “Ah well, go ahead, but don’t tell us about it.”
The purpose of this extraordinary position is about the only thing that is clear in this whole area. It is to keep abortions, even those that are lawfully performed in the very restrictive circumstances allowed by the Constitution, under the carpet. Women have a constitutional right to terminate a life-threatening pregnancy.
But the exercise of that right is deliberately “unknown”. It is meant to be a secret. For the women who find themselves in this difficult position, the message is none too subtle: this is not something we talk about. Shame clings to a procedure that logically should produce pride: the saving of a life.
Why? Because there is very strong pressure on politicians from anti-abortion groups to uphold the fiction that abortion is never necessary to save the life of a mother. These groups adopt two (actually rather inconsistent) positions: (a) abortion is never in fact necessary to save a woman’s life; and (b) even if it is, it’s not abortion.
This insistence hinges on a linguistic manoeuvre: there can be no such thing as an abortion to save a mother – simply because we choose to define such a procedure as not being an abortion. As one of the leading anti-abortion figures in Irish medicine, Prof Eamon O’Dwyer, puts it, “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.” In other words, abortions we approve of must not be called abortions.
These word games may seem abstract and harmless. Does it matter that a doctor who performs a life-saving termination of pregnancy salves his conscience by telling himself that it is not an abortion? Unfortunately it does. The combination of the State’s refusal to record abortions and the ideological insistence that some abortions are not abortions confines the subject to a grey zone. We do not yet know the full circumstances of Halappanavar’s death, but it seems likely that, if septicaemia was the primary culprit, uncertainty, hesitation and fear were secondary causes.
There is, in all of this, not so much a lack of clarity as a refusal of clarity. An acknowledgment of the basic truth that abortion is sometimes necessary to save a woman’s life would make it necessary to be honest and define the how, where, when and why of lawful abortion in Ireland. That in turn would mean giving up on the idea that Ireland is, as Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, recalled being told, “a Catholic country” – an almost unique place in which the evil of abortion has been kept at bay.
Symbolism is everything. Ireland has abortion rates that are typical of western Europe (albeit that the vast majority of Irish terminations are performed in Britain). Women are entitled to information on abortion services and to travel for terminations. The State itself acknowledges openly that “lawful abortions” are carried out here. Abortion, in other words, is a fact of life in Ireland, just as it is in comparable countries. What remains utterly distinctive about Ireland is its refusal to acknowledge that fact. The symbolism must not be contaminated by the reality. The women whose messy realities contradict the desired image must remain invisible.
There have been many times in Irish history when some people have believed that symbols are worth dying for. But now Ireland has to decide whether they’re worth forcing someone else – a vibrant young woman desperate to live – to die for.
The misfortune of Savita and Praveen Halappanavar was to walk unknowingly into Ireland’s grey zone of hidden realities, unspoken truths and linguistic evasions. Had they grown up here, they might have been more alert to the way we do things here, our charming insistence on wrapping even matters of life and death in convoluted equivocations and rich ambiguities. But even then they could scarcely have imagined that one society’s self-regarding games could have such barbaric consequences.
Background: Death of Savita Halappanavar
On October 21st Savita Halappanavar, who was 31, went to University Hospital Galway with back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying.
Her husband, 34-year-old Praveen Halappanavar, said that after learning she was miscarrying she asked several times if the pregnancy could be terminated, but as the foetal heartbeat was still present she was refused and told, “This is a Catholic country.”
After three days of pain the heartbeat stopped and the foetus was removed. Halappanavar died of septicaemia on October 28th.
- PATRICK FREYNE
Dublin ~ Sunday November 18 2012
A woman is dead. Never again, please
Amid the anger and shock, there are already voices urging cowardice, writes Gene Kerrigan
THERE was an eerie feeling on Molesworth Street, last Wednesday, at a few minutes to 6pm. People moved towards the Leinster House end of the street, in greater numbers than the usual homeward trekkers – moving purposefully, but in ones and twos. No marching, no chants, no banners. Just people taking some time out to gather at the national parliament and make a quiet, despairing statement of political anger. The patchy sound system was open to anyone who wanted to speak.
Word had gone out on Twitter, but there was little organisation, hardly any preparation. It was a spontaneous eruption of rage over the death of Savita Halappanavar. It might have attracted only a few dozen. Instead, well over 1,000 people applauded speeches that ranged from the eloquent to the incensed.
The gardai were unprepared for the crowds. RTE was unprepared. We needed this scandal ventilated, but normal programmes continued. The rest of us twitched with fury – knowing this was the dreaded outcome we had long hoped wouldn't happen.
The anger outside the Dail echoed the shocked response throughout the country. It could have been any woman of child-bearing age. It can happen again tomorrow. The forces that created the buggered-up law are weakened, but they survive.
This tragedy grew out of the crack in society that has existed since the Sixties. From Lemass onward, it was accepted that a nation of cowed citizens could not thrive in the modern world. An inward-looking, isolated country had to connect with the rest of the world, economically and culturally, if it was to survive within modern capitalism.
Yet, as late as 1970 the stagnancy was such that it remained a mortal sin for a Catholic to "frequent non-Catholic schools or neutral schools or schools that are open also to non-Catholics".
Change came. Education was modernised, thousands of perfectly respectable books were taken off the banned list. In 1972, the Catholic Church agreed to have its "special position" removed from the Constitution. Television encouraged debate. Ideas of personal and sexual liberation were discussed. Women were allowed to sit on juries, they no longer had to quit the civil service when they married. Pubs that banned women from the bar began to accept lucrative orders for gin and slimlines. Equal pay was discussed, as were rape, domestic violence, contraception and divorce.
Catholic absolutism was on shaky ground. In 1966 there were 1,409 vocations to the priesthood and religious orders. By 1974 the figure was down to 547. Inevitably, a rearguard action was fought by the upholders of what were called "traditional values". Already, Ireland was awash with platoons of the army of resistance: the Council of Social Concern, the League of Decency, the Christian Political Action Movement, the Catholic Doctors Guild, the Catholic Nurses Guild. In 1979, Pope John Paul II came here and his popularity boosted the traditionalists.
On one level, the Knights of Columbanus and Opus Dei influenced profession-als, civil servants and politicians. At another, the Society for the Protection of Children was allowed to bring its garish anti-abortion movie and slides into about 250 schools.
In 1977, some Fine Gael activists believed that at least a quarter of the party's National Executive were Knights.
Following a conference in Dublin (of the Doctors Who Respect Human Life), various individuals came up with the idea of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. The Pro-Life Amendment Campaign was born.
Already, abortion was illegal, no one but a handful of feminists had publicly mentioned it. Women had to go to England for abortions, in their thousands, taking the pressure off the state. Eventually, the abortion trail to England would be given constitutional protection, by referendum, backed by the bishops.
Why a constitutional amendment on abortion? It would give the traditionalists an easy victory. It was a move that few politicians dared oppose. It would secure traditionalism into the distant future.
More than that, it would push back against contraception, divorce and secularism. In the words of one PLAC founder, Ireland would "once again become a beacon", and "turn the tide in the western world". Oliver Flanagan, former Fine Gael Minister for Defence, said the amendment would ensure that the "liberal intellectuals will be silenced".
In April 1981, frightened politicians, Haughey and FitzGerald, met the new outfit within three days and immediately agreed to sponsor an amendment. Thus was born the constitutional ban on abortion – which in fact opened the door to abortion. From 1992, and the X Case in the Supreme Court, the traditionalists have been fighting to limit the terms under which abortion is allowed. The politicians still fear them – and that fear led them to refuse to clarify the law.
When Savita Halappanavar entered Galway University Hospital she was surrounded by modern equipment, dedicated staff and 20 years of political cowardice.
Her miscarrying baby was doomed. But while its heart was beating the law says it must be given equal status with Savita. We cannot yet know what exactly happened through those days, and we cannot know, let alone judge, the actions of any particular doctor or nurse – nor their collective actions.
Outsiders have second-guessed the medics, on limited information. What we know was that the medics were subject to the law, and the courts have demanded the law be clarified by the politicians – and the politicians have refused to do so, for two decades. Medics must work it out for themselves, in the midst of a medical crisis. The woman has no say.
The refusal of the politicians to clarify the law is explicit. "I think that this issue is not of priority for government now," Enda Kenny told Time magazine, for his triumphant cover story in September. That meant he would never, through this Government's time in office, deal with the issue. Fianna Fail felt the same.
Politicians find abortion too scary. For 20 years they let it hang, perhaps believing the odds were against a high-profile death. They were gambling with the lives of others.
The original proposed wording to the Constitutional amendment was: "The State recognises the absolute right to life of every unborn child from conception" – it was feminists and politicians who insisted that the life of the mother must count.
But the political establishment was satisfied with that precarious balance. And they got away with it for decades.
The amendment failed to save the Catholic Church. Last year 22 men were studying for the priesthood. This year, the figure is 12. The decline of the church was brought about not by militant secularism but by the conduct of its own.
But the era of aggressive traditionalism, the effort to make Ireland a Catholic beacon that would turn the tide in Europe, left a legacy of mangled law. A law that hangs over medics who make life and death decisions.
A woman is dead. The law is discredited, any woman who may become pregnant is left to worry about what might or might not happen. If that isn't enough, for those concerned only with the bottom line, the failure to legislate has destroyed years of marketing Ireland as a modern state.
Voices already urge more cowardice. Leave it be, they say. What's the hurry. Things are fine.
Never again, say the rest of us. And damn any politician who votes to take a Christmas holiday while this issue remains unresolved.
Dublin ~ Saturday, November 17, 2012
Americans left agog at confused cruelty of Irish abortion law
By ANN MARIE HOURIHANE
A slightly strained week, which was spent trying to explain to Americans here in San Francisco how it is that healthy young women have to die in Irish hospitals.
Ever since Savita Halappanavar’s lovely face appeared on page three of Wednesday’s New York Times, it has been kind of uncomfortable to be an Irish person in certain circles here. But sure that’s pregnant women for you, always a source of embarrassment. Always making fools of us in front of the whole world.
Perhaps America is tired of Ireland’s excuses. The sad bewilderment among liberals here, when they heard the news of Savita Halappanavar’s death in a Galway hospital in October, is worse than any aggression. The thing is, Americans just can’t understand why surgical treatment for a miscarriage can be withheld from a woman on the grounds that the foetal heart is still beating, when medical staff have already agreed that the pregnancy has no chance of survival, as is claimed to have happened in this case. This is proving rather difficult to explain.
It is surprising how much Americans know about Irish abortion law, or the lack of it. “The mother’s life has priority, right?” they ask. Since Wednesday there has been no clear answer to that question. Is it, “We would like to think so”? Is it, “Well, it depends on where you are in Ireland, and also where in Ireland the pregnant woman is at the time”? Or is it “Er, we’d prefer not to think about that, if you don’t mind. Now bung us a couple of call centres, and leave us in peace”?
Church no longer scapegoat
You do get the sneaking impression that Ireland’s usual explanations are wearing thin. Can we, in all conscience, blame the Catholic Church? We thought the church was discredited in Ireland, the Americans say. Oh it is, you say miserably. We thought that Mass attendance had plummeted, they say. Oh it has, you say.
Does the church still own all the hospitals? they ask. Look, you say, it’s not that simple. Before the church let slip the reins of power it trained whole generations of men and women. These are our politicians, our civil servants, our doctors, ourselves. In Irish politics the worst thing you can be is discernibly different. They don’t want to get into trouble. They don’t want to think about unpleasant things.
These are not conditions conducive to the introduction of compassionate abortion legislation. When Clare Daly raised the subject in the Dáil, the chamber was almost empty except for female TDs and a tiny number of left-wing males. The mainstream political parties don’t want to know, and they never have.
“Well, why do you keep voting for them then?” ask the Americans. There is a brief silence at this point. “And these guys in mainstream political parties, don’t they have wives and daughters and sisters and nieces?” Oh they do, you say, the family is terribly important in Ireland. “Well, haven’t they ever been afraid that something like this might happen to one of their female relatives in a maternity hospital?” the Americans ask. Well, you say, presumably they’re hoping that the situation never arises within their own family. The Americans back off here, because some arguments are just too stupid to pursue. On the whole, they are a tactful lot.
It has also been wearying to have to explain that the place providing Irish women with safe, legal abortion is actually our colonial oppressor and all-round imperial bad hat, England. Talk about the empire on which the sun has never set. Talk about independence.
Talk about illegal abortion, which is still within living memory here. During the week a man remembered how his older sister was brought to east Los Angeles as a teenager for an illegal abortion which left her hospitalised. She had no England to run to. (She survived.) It is memories like that which keep the American abortion law on the statute books, despite the renewed efforts of the American right, and people like the lovely Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican congressman who said publicly that “legitimate rape” does not result in pregnancy. (On Friday, the advertisement in which he apologised for this remark was voted, by the political staff of the Washington Post, to be the worst advertisement of the 2012 election.)
But American abortion law is also kept there by international cases such as Savita Halappanavar’s, which on the face of it indicates how weasel words on the abortion issue can affect the obstetrical care of women who are very happy to be pregnant, and longing for a child.
Amendment of 1983
Too late to explain that the 1983 “pro-life” amendment to the Constitution had consequences which its most arduous proponents did not foresee. It is chilling to wonder if they would have changed their minds if they had foreseen them: the teenagers not allowed to travel; the mature, taxpaying citizens forced to seek medically required abortions in foreign countries.
Is there any American, be they ever so liberal, who wants to know that, back in 1983, those of us who opposed the amendment said it would lead to women dying?
A fear which was summarily dismissed, particularly by the medics who supported the amendment. That is so alarmist, they said. That is hysteria, they said. Leave it to us, they said. And we did. But that explanation is self-serving, and also too long. America has moved on, unimpressed.
London ~ Saturday 07 July 2012, page 7
Irish pain over abortion law – case studies
Mothers carrying terminally ill babies explain their bitter experience at having to travel abroad to get a termination
By Henry McDonald in Dublin
Arlette Lyons (34), Ruth Bowie (34), and Amanda Mellet (38) all had to travel to the UK to have abortions when they discovered the babies they were carrying would not survive. (Kim Haughton)
Already grieving from the knowledge that her baby would be born dead, Arlette Lyons, a 34-year-old sales representative from Dublin and her husband were stunned to find they would have to take a plane to England to end her pregnancy.
"Thinking of my other two children, the family, my baby, to carry on for another 28 weeks was inconceivable. I would have had to lock myself away, telling the kids would have been horrific, so carrying on with the baby never was going to be an option for us.
"We had the termination in March and I suppose I couldn't believe that we had to leave our friends and family, and the treatment in our own maternity hospital was so fabulous, to leave all that support from everybody behind who were looked after us, I was just horrified.
"The world needs to know that this is happening in Ireland in 2012 and it has to stop."
Ruth Bowie, a 34-year-old paediatric nurse living in Dublin, got pregnant in 2009 shortly after she married. Her 12-week scan detected that a large portion of the baby's skull and brain was missing and that it would ultimately not survive. Thirteen weeks into her pregnancy Ruth and her husband flew to Birmingham for the termination.
"Because our flight [home] wasn't until 7 o'clock that night we had nowhere to go [afterwards] so we wandered the streets of Birmingham for about four or five hours. At one point we considered going to the cinema because it was quiet and dark but in the end we didn't. We just walked around the centre of Birmingham and pottered about. I was in pain, I was bleeding and we had just lost our baby and all you wanted to do was go home to your own bed, and have your family and friends around you but that was not possible."
Amanda Mellet, 36 and originally from Michigan, learned 11 weeks into her pregnancy that there was something profoundly wrong with her baby's heart. On her husband's birthday the couple were told by the hospital there wasn't even any point in seeing a heart specialist about defects in the baby girl's heart given that if Amanda had gone full term the child would die. They travelled to England for a termination.
"I remember one of the midwives over there saying to me 'You are doing the best thing for your baby.' It was the first time that anyone from the medical profession had said that to me. And it dawned on me: 'Jesus do I have to leave the country to get support because everyone in Ireland is so afraid to say anything?'
"I don't believe that they don't care, it's just that people are so afraid of giving an opinion or seem to give an opinion."