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Abortion in Ireland: The Injustice and Day-to-Day Terror Faced by Countless Women

11:38 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sarah Fisher for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar here.

Ireland's abortion policies cause widespread misery.

As an organisation that hears first-hand from the women who bear the burden of Ireland’s archaic abortion laws, the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar was shocking and sickening.

And yet not as surprising as you’d think.

Given that abortion laws in Ireland are among the strictest in the world, a tragedy of this kind wasn’t so much a matter of if, but when. The circumstances in which Savita died are truly abhorrent. Admitted to hospital experiencing a miscarriage at 17 weeks, despite being told that the fetus “wasn’t viable” she was made to suffer for days, left begging for an abortion that she was refused as long as there was a foetal heart beat.

Haunted by the harrowing details of Savita’s death we’re left to wonder how many more women in Ireland may have lost their lives as a result of being denied a life-saving abortion.

If Savita’s family hadn’t bravely made the decision to go public, would her senseless death have come to light? Have the lives of more women been sacrificed because a fetus was deemed more important? Even when it was known that the fetus would not survive? When, technically in Ireland an abortion is permitted if there is a “real and substantial risk to the life of the mother?” These are questions that we cannot ignore and questions that demand answers.

Savita’s death is the worst illustration of what happens when abortion is highly restricted, and the worst way for the ‘pro-life’ lobby to be proved wrong. How often do we hear that abortion is never necessary to save the life of a woman? A protester at a vigil for Savita hit the nail on the head with a placard stating ‘Pro-Life beliefs killed Savita Halappanavar — Ireland needs abortion rights.’  So did Kartha Pollit in her compelling reflection on the case When ‘Pro-Life’ kills.

But what has been absent from the mainstream media coverage of Savita’s death has been the mass, day-in day-out misery and discrimination experienced by women as a result of the near-total ban on abortion in Ireland.

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Savita Had a Heartbeat, Too

1:20 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Shivana Jorawar for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar here.
For days now, I’ve been putting myself in Savita Halappanavar’s shoes.

I’m expecting. Seventeen weeks in, piercing pain sends me to the hospital. For three days, I’m miscarrying. There’s no hope for my child and my own health is fading. For three days, I’m in physical agony and doctors refuse my pleas to terminate the pregnancy to save my life. The child won’t survive, but there is a “heartbeat” and doctors fear terminating will violate my country’s laws. The unthinkable happens.

The tragedy that ended Savita’s life put a human face on the abortion issue. People are demonstrating in droves and even the Indian government is pressuring Ireland to change its laws. One demonstrator held a placard reading, “Savita had a heartbeat, too.”

For many of us, the disregard for women’s human rights in the name of religion just became personal. When I see Savita’s face, I can’t help thinking that she looks like me and, like me, was educated and could afford health care — but she still suffered this indefensible fate. Everyone knew the child could not survive, but that Savita could with proper care.

What does it say about a society when it leaves a woman to die in the name of “life?”

Where is the respect for women’s lives? This irony pervades the politics surrounding women’s health in my own country, the United States. Right-wing calls for abortion bans not only keep women from living full lives of our choosing, but often fail to include exceptions for our health or death. Most of those backing these so-called “pro-life” measures are also the ones blocking efforts to provide equal pay, health care, and safety net programs women and children rely on. It seems their concern for life ends when a baby is born.

And, if this can happen to someone like Savita, a doctor herself, what about more vulnerable women? As U.S. conservatives rush to eliminate the right to choose, it is poor women, disproportionately of color, who are seeing that right fade most quickly. It is these women who often cannot afford abortions, or do not have the time and know-how to see a provider during their first trimester. Twenty-week bans and funding cuts are not only sexist, but covertly racist and classist, too.

As I plan my own future and explore whether parenthood is right for me, I am thankful I live in a place where abortion is legal and safe, and that I can afford the right to choose. I am thankful that women have always been resilient in my country, and that we have a long history of fighting for and winning reproductive rights.

With strength and courage, women in the United States have come a long way. But our journey is not complete. Too many women are still left out and too many lawmakers threaten to send us back to a time when Savita’s story could happen here. That’s why I work to not only preserve the rights I have, but to expand them for all women — because we all have a heartbeat, too.

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Women’s Lives Matter: It’s Time to Hold Governments Accountable for Safe Abortion Care

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Patty Skuster for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.
See all our coverage of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar here.

The news of Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death after being denied an abortion has been heard around the world by now. Protesters have gathered in her honor, vigils will continue to be held and, perhaps, the end of her life will be a wake-up call. Women’s lives matter and laws should protect them — not cost them their lives.

In Ireland, abortion is against the law in most cases. But Savita should have received a legal abortion; under the constitution abortion is allowed when a woman’s life is in imminent danger. And Savita’s husband reports that doctors told them an abortion wasn’t an option, despite her repeated requests and severely declining health, because Ireland “is a Catholic country.” What that meant for Savita was that the health-care providers at Galway University Hospital made decisions based on their values (as dictated by the Catholic Church) and disregarded the value of her life.

The lack of implementation of the abortion law in Ireland is very similar to so many countries where Ipas works. In most countries, abortion is permitted for one or more reasons. Human rights authorities — including at the United Nations and ICPD–agree that governments must take steps to make legal abortion available. In fact, in 2010, the European Court on Human Rights ruled that Ireland must implement its abortion law. But when governments don’t fulfill their obligations to protect women’s reproductive rights, women can’t access safe abortion services and die as a result. Just like Savita.

We have to hold governments accountable. Laws must be clear on abortion and guidance and training need to follow. And make no mistake, these laws and policies must include regulation of providers’ refusal of service — to ensure that a woman can receive an abortion from a willing colleague through referrals or some other mechanism. And never should a woman’s life hang in the balance because of someone else’s moral objection to abortion.

Savita isn’t alone. There are so many women whose deaths are never reported or don’t have access to hospitals and die because they can’t get safe abortion care. Why? Because the laws are not implemented, people are unwilling or untrained to provide service, and abortion stigma permeates legal systems, health systems, communities and even families. For years, Ireland has failed to enact mechanisms for legal abortion because of political and social sensitivities. Without clarity about what’s permitted and what isn’t under the law, doctors and other health-care workers tend, as they did in Savita’s case, tragically, to play it really safe — for them, that is, not for the women who are affected.

At Ipas we have worked throughout the world to help governments clarify and implement abortion laws. We partner with health-care providers, civil society organizations, and health ministries to pass guidelines that enable access to legal abortion. We support the training of health-care providers and partner with community organizations and the legal sector to promote an understanding of local abortion laws.

Let’s not forget; a woman is dead after doctors refused to terminate an already unviable — yet wanted — pregnancy for a woman in incredible pain. Her husband is left to question the decisions made by these doctors — and to grapple with her death, which could likely have been prevented.

Photo by infomatique under Creative Commons license.

Silence and Denial Don’t Work: Ireland, Malta, the European Union and the Lessons of Savita’s Death

1:49 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Johanna Westeson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar here.

Much has been said about the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway, Ireland last month. Even before seeing the outcome of the official investigation we can conclude that her death was the result of a combination of factors: inhumane laws, lack of guidelines on how to apply the laws that do exist, fear of prosecution on behalf of doctors, medical incompetence, influences of the most conservative wing of the Catholic Church over hospitals, and — as pointed out recently by Jodi Jacobson — a general climate of misogyny, poisoning both the medical establishment and society at large.

Twenty years ago, the Irish Supreme Court established that abortion is legal when a pregnant woman’s life is in danger. More specifically, it ruled that termination of pregnancy is lawful “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.” Please note how restrictive these words are: “real and substantial risk” and “life, as distinct from the health.” With due respect for a court that took a courageous step forward in a country where the issue of abortion is and was taboo under any circumstance, it is remarkable how the ruling goes out of its way to make this exception to the abortion ban as narrow as possible. Anyhow, these are the parameters. It is the law of the land.

But nobody knows how this rule should be understood because there is no further guidance. No written law, no guidelines, no official interpretation. So doctors in Ireland, whether pro- or anti-choice, whether in Catholic hospitals or elsewhere, must navigate around this. It may be that in Savita Halappanavar’s case, the situation was crystal clear: her life was in danger, the situation was acute, an abortion would probably have saved her, and doctors refused her care because they favored the life of her unviable fetus over hers. It is even likely that this was the case. But in most situations, threats to the life and health of the pregnant woman cannot be so clearly distinguished. Usually, a threat to life is preceded by a threat to health. So is a doctor to wait until a critical health situation turns into a life-threatening situation? It appears that way. How does this correspond with medical ethics? It doesn’t. I do not envy ob/gyns in Ireland. I cannot imagine the agony that they, or many of them, must experience when a woman shows up with pregnancy-related complications. This is not to take away any of the responsibility from those doctors or the hospital that treated, or mistreated, Savita Halappanavar. It is only to shed light on the context in which they are operating.

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