Last month, a woman was admitted to a hospital in Galway, Ireland. She was 17 weeks pregnant with a wanted child. She was experiencing severe back pain. She was found to be miscarrying the pregnancy.
Within days, she was dead.
Why? Because she ended up in a Catholic hospital, governed by an ethic that even a non-viable fetus doomed to die is more important than a living, breathing 31-year-old woman.
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IrishTimes.com reports that Savita Halappanavar, a dentist, arrived at the hospital on October 21st. According to the story:
Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.
This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country.”
So, the story continues, “She spent a further 2½ days ‘in agony’ until the foetal heartbeat stopped.”
According to IrishTimes.com, Mr Halappanavar, speaking from Belgaum in the state of Karnataka, India, said an internal examination was performed when she first presented.
“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.
“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.
“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.
“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.
“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”
The report goes on: “The dead foetus was removed and Savita was taken to the high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit, where she died of septicaemia on the 28th.”
An autopsy carried out by Dr Grace Callagy two days later found she died of septicaemia “documented ante-mortem” and E.coli ESBL.”
Someone’s daughter, wife, friend, perhaps sister is now dead. Why? Because a non-viable fetus was more important than her life. Because she was left to suffer for days on end in service of an ideological stance and religion she did not share. Because a wanted pregnancy went horribly wrong, and, because as must now be clear, there are people who don’t care about the lives of women. And there are others so invested in their uninformed misogynistic ideology that they claim there are no situations in which a woman’s life might be endangered by pregnancy. Like, say, the recently defeated Congressman Joe Walsh.
This case happened in Ireland. But it is not isolated. Just this past summer, a teen in the Dominican Republic died because she was denied chemotherapy for cancer. Countless others die every day, but without press coverage we just don’t see or hear about them. As Ipas notes, Women in El Salvador and Mexico have been put in jail for both abortions and “suspicious” miscarriages. Young girls in Argentina and Brazil, victims of violence and incest, have been denied safe abortion care. A total abortion ban in Nicaragua means that not only do women die for lack of safe abortion care, but that untold numbers of women and girls who are the victims of violence are forced to endure pregnancy and childbearing against their will.
And if they have their way, anti-choice fanatics in the United States want this country to join these others in denying women their very personhood. There is H.R. 3, the Let Women Die Act, passed in the last Congress by the rabidly anti-woman House majority. There is the “Sanctity Of Human Life [As Long As You Are Not Female] Act,” so strongly supported by recent Vice Presidential candidate and current congressman, Paul Ryan (R-WI). There are heartbeat bans, and bans on medication abortion, laws that force doctors to lie to women, and laws that force women to undergo unnecessary trans-vaginal and abdominal ultrasounds. There are attacks on Planned Parenthood and Title X, past and future. And in addition to the terrorism and accosting of women in evidence wherever safe abortion care is provided, there is harassment at clinics that do not even provide abortions.
These are the lives of your sister, your mother, your daughter, your aunt, your friends, and your colleagues. These are the lives at stake. These are the very people that the fanatical anti-choice and religious right see as “not people.”
They are all Savita Halappanavar.
We are all Savita Halappanavar.
But we do not have to die at the hands of misogynists.
In honor of Savita Halappanavar; in honor of the nearly 22 million women worldwide each year who endure unsafe aborton; in honor of the 47,000 women per year worldwide who die from complications of unsafe abortion and the estimated 10 times that number who suffer long-term health consequences; in honor of the millions of women who do not have access to contraception, who have no control over whether and with whom they have sex or and whether or with whom they have children, we can fight back. In honor of the young girls married young and the women forced to bear children long past the point they are able to care for more… for all these women, we must continue to act, to liberalize abortion laws, ensure every woman has access, remove the stigma, and trust women, like Savita, who know when it is time to end even the most wanted pregnancy.
Because she deserved to live. We deserve to live. We are people.