Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stop being afraid of admitting you are Pro-Choice. We need you.

When I was a teenager in the late 1980s, I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic teacher, Mrs. Christenson, who taught a Women's Studies in our very small public high school. How she managed to convince the school in our conservative little town to teach such a progressive course, I'll never know, but I felt incredibly honoured and privileged to take part. A book she recommended was Our Bodies, Our Selves, by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. This book became my health bible, answering questions I wouldn't have dreamed of asking another human being, let alone my doctor. It allowed me to hear women's voices, read women's real life experiences, and opened a door into how feminism matters in the lives we lead, not just as a concept.

Today, I'm reminded that feminism's primary concern is one of human rights. But because so many of the rights that are denied women are tied to our reproductive organs, people shy away from talking about it. Abortion is not a pleasant thing. Most people, including me, don't enjoy bringing up the subject. However, abortion rights are some of the most basic rights that women have fought for and still need to keep fighting for.

In Ireland, a woman cannot get a legal abortion for any reason. Not if being pregnant is endangering her life. Not if she was raped. Not if she was raped by a family member. Not if her foetus has a fatal abnormality and will die the minute it is born. Not for any reason. Twenty years ago, a fourteen year old girl who was pregnant from being repeatedly raped by her neighbor won a historic case against the attorney general for the right to an abortion because her pregnancy caused "a real and substantial risk to her life." But no legislation was ever enacted. In other words, although the legal right technically exists, there is no way to actually avail of that right. Women still cannot, even to save their own lives, obtain an abortion in Ireland.

It doesn't take Einstein to figure out what results: the unnecessary deaths of women. This morning, a news story broke telling a horrific tale of a 31-year-old woman named Savita Halappanavar  who presented with a miscarriage. It was quite clear that the pregnancy was not viable. However, despite international recommendations to the contrary, and despite the woman's desperate pleas to terminate her pregnancy, the medical staff refused to remove the foetus until it died inside of her, citing that "This is a Catholic country." She developed an infection and died a painful death. Now a family is mourning for a woman who should be alive today.

Of course today the media is flooded with this story. However, while the story was held up in the Irish Times' legal department for at least 24 hours or more, they decided to run an opinion piece entitled, "Abortion is Never the Basis for a Humane or Compassionate Solution"  knowing full well that the next day they'd be running a gigantic story about a woman who died as a result of being denied abortion services. Today, in tandem with this story, they have also decided to run an article headlined, "Death as a result of infection during miscarriage rare" as if to say, "Hey guys! This, like, almost never happens, so what's the big deal?"

Another thing you should know is that abortion is not just unavailable. It's actually outlawed in the actual Irish Constitution. So to legalise it in any capacity, we can assume, would require a change in to the 8th Amendment. This past weekend, there was a referendum to change the constitution of Ireland for another issue, called the Children's Referendum. Turnout for that vote was very low, but it was passed. What do you think The Irish Times made of that? Why, this of course: "Low Turnout a Lesson Not to Tinker with Constitution." Keep in mind that this "analysis" was printed with their full knowledge of the floodgates that were about to be unleashed by the news of Savita Halappanavar's tragic death. So while they report the news, they manage to get their propaganda into the message, which is that we shouldn't legislate on the X case and we shouldn't allow women avail of their rights to abortion services, not even to save their lives.

I can't help but think back to my experiences during the 1992 Brookline Massachusetts clinic shootings.  It felt horrible and wrong to hold up the death of someone I knew and worked with as a rallying cry. But I knew that it was necessary, and it was right. Today, we must all remember that Savita Halappanavar was a person, a person who was loved, and who is now being grieved for. But we must also think of all the women we know living in Ireland of child bearing age, and speak out so that this doesn't happen anymore. No matter how rare they claim it is, it happens. Women die because their rights are being denied. Basic health care is being denied. And everyone, all around the world, needs to start talking about it.

Like I said, abortion is not a fun subject. No one enjoys having to talk about it. But talk we must. March we must. And shout. And write. Do your part, even if it's just sharing Savita's story. Even if you think everyone already knows. Have the courage to bring up this sore subject. Stop being afraid of what people will think of you. Start thinking about the people you love who are trying to have families, like the Halappanavars. What if this happened to me? What would you do then? Now, do it.

If you are in Ireland, come to the Dail today at 6pm, or to the vigil on Saturday. Make your voice heard!


  1. The death of Savita Halappanavar should provoke outrage in anyone truly concerned about the health of women.

    Hopefully the investigation will shed some light on why Mrs. Halappanavar was refused treatment for miscarriage, when this treatment is regularly administered in this country, and is allowed for by the law and by the Medical Council.

    The treatment she needed was legal, so there is no question that a change in the law is what is needed here. It is medical negligence that she was not treated urgently.

    In cases where the fetus is still alive, the Medical Council in part 21.4 of its guidelines for medical doctors states that treatment is allowed even if “there is little of no hope of the baby surviving”.

    The treatment that Mrs. Halappanavar should have received is legal in this country. In fact, it is standard medical procedure in cases like hers. That she wasn’t treated is a failure of the hospital and medical team, not a problem with the law.

    I suspect that the medical council will strike off one or more people because of this and rightly so.

    The greatest thing we can do to honour Savita’s life is to insist on obstetric excellence – that is what saves women’s lives, not abortion.

  2. Just saw an amazing doc film called After Tiller. Four 3rd trimester abortionists (the only 4 in the US) are followed and interviewed by two Wesleyan grads. It's about the people and families they serve and how they carry on after the firebombing of a colleague's clinic and his subsequent assassination in church on Sunday.