As a woman, there are situations in life which leave you potentially powerless over your own body. These occasions are generally associated with having children and therefore, are part and parcel of being a woman, and all which that entails. A hundred years ago, the very process of going through childbirth was life threatening. Women frequently lost their lives in the very act of bringing life into this world. That was Ireland a hundred years ago.
Medicine has since changed. Childbirth has changed. Women have changed. Ireland, apparently, has not.
Less than a month ago, in 2012, in our country, a woman lost her life because she was pregnant. She should still be alive today. Her death could have been avoided. It wasn’t.
Savita Hallappanavar presented at University College Hospital in Galway on October 21st complaining of back pain. She was told she was miscarrying. She was 17 weeks pregnant. She died of Septicaemia on October 28th. Her husband Praveen has since said she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says Savita was told this was not possible because there was a foetal heartbeat and she was in a Catholic country. She was in our Catholic country and we let her die.
When you are told you are miscarrying it is the most powerless feeling in the world. You lie there, tired, drained, shaking, bleeding and terrified. Desperately hoping there is some way back for the tiny life inside you - you are told there is not. And then you wait. You are examined more. You cry a little more. Looking into the eyes of a nurse who does this several times a day, you wonder if she knows anything about how scared and alone you feel. But most of all, you feel as if you have lost all control of your body. Something is dying, with every breath you take, and you can do nothing. You sit there, with the support of the person closest to you and watch the worry on their face and then you go back to the process of doing nothing, of being able to do absolutely nothing.
Savita Halappanavar was becoming more ill by the day. She was told there was no hope for her baby, She asked for a termination, repeatedly. Repeatedly, she was told no. During her last days on this earth, Ireland’s most arrogant of moral codes took away the last bit of power she had and she was not physically well enough to travel to have her request granted.
Our legislation on abortion is unclear and grossly inadequate. As a woman who has had a child and suffered a miscarriage, this most dark of grey areas scares me to death. This situation isn’t exclusive to Galway or Dublin or Cork, the law on termination is just as muddied in the North.
Savita was powerless. Ill and weak and going through unimaginable emotional pain she could only leave herself in the hands of the medical team. There was nothing else she could do. Now she will never smile or laugh or cry or ever have children again.
She is dead.
Whether we’re talking legislation, medical incompetence or religion, essentially, this beautiful 31 year-old-woman died because she was not allowed to make a choice about her own body. Our country does not afford women that most basic of rights and that is wrong.
We must learn from this, it must never happen again. It baffles me completely that any person would think they have the right to make a decision on behalf of any woman that finds herself in that position. I’m constantly baffled by the type of fundamentalist campaigners who are so concerned with lives which have nothing to do with them.
As women on this island, we will never be fully free until we have the right to choose what happens to our bodies. It breaks my heart and shames me to think that my home country refuses to give us this most basic right and a little bit of my heart breaks every time I think about what Savita went through, in that bed, during her final days.
She had a heartbeat too, once.