Today, we have learned that a woman died because she was refused an abortion. On the 28th October, 2012, Savita Halappanavar died because she was denied an abortion, because the foetus inside her still had a heartbeat, and in the country in which she sought treatment, a foetus has as much of a right to life as the woman carrying it. Even if that woman is miscarrying, so the foetus is not going to survive. Indeed, Savita’s story proves that “the woman carrying it” is all any woman is, in the eyes of the lawmakers of the Republic of Ireland. Because they are, as Savita and her husband were repeatedly told, “a Catholic country”. And abortion conflicts with their Catholic beliefs, which stress a “pro-life” stance. So Savita was allowed to die.
Never again shall we use the term “pro-life” to describe those who believe that a foetus is a living thing, to the extent that they believe that abortion should be outlawed. There is nothing “pro-life” about condemning a woman to death in favour of a foetus that was never going to live in the first place. Now, we have no lives. No mother, no baby. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a moral objection to the process of abortion, and believing that a foetus has a right to life and is alive earlier in development, but when medical and scientific consensus all suggest that there is nothing harmful or wrong about termination, there is absolutely no excuse for supporting a ban. If Ireland had legalised abortion, Savita would still be alive today. If you don’t like abortion, don’t get one, but recognise that some women need them. Some women fall pregnant when they did not intend to or did not want to be, and some women, like Savita, want to be pregnant, but encounter complications. No woman deserves to be punished for any of these things. Society has moved on a lot since laws on abortion were developed (1861 for Ireland); things have changed. Religion no longer holds the strong influence over people that it once did. Sex is no longer reserved for marriage, for the intention of procreation. People have sex whenever and with whoever they like, and sometimes things go wrong. There are undoubtedly people who do not like this, but it is not for them to enforce their will on the many who do like it. It is for them to modernise their society and laws to ensure that people are able to live their lives the way they want, in the safest way possible. We do not live in the 1800s anymore. How acceptable is it even for Ireland to describe itself as “a Catholic country” now, when not all of its citizens follow that religion (like Savita); expecting them to abide by rules created around that religion seems ridiculous and unnecessary. Or are we really in the game of punishing women for having sex, and punishing people from other religions for not being Catholic? Really, in the 21st Century?
Forcing women to carry through with pregnancies by keeping abortion illegal is safe for no one. Not even that precious life inside the womb that it is designed to save. Forcing women to carry through with a pregnancy they do not want is nothing but punishment. A punishment for failing as a woman. Because if she was a good woman, she wouldn’t be having sex if she didn’t intend to get pregnant, she wouldn’t ever not want to be a mother, and nothing would go wrong. To many, a woman’s existence is only to serve as an incubator for new life. Few punishments could be so expensive, so time-consuming, so life-changing, and so often so one-sided (for women), as childbirth and childrearing when it is unwanted. What prospects do you think that child is going to have?
Savita Halappanavar had intended to be a mother, and she could not wait for the moment that she was. Savita Halappanavar was married. Savita Halappanavar did absolutely nothing wrong. Except what happened within her body that caused her to miscarry – things that were completely out of her control. But for that, she received a death penalty. How can abortion be viewed as anti-life, and an anti-abortion stance be viewed as pro-life, when it is the latter that caused the most tragic loss of life? It goes without saying that people will be calling for Ireland to change its abortion laws. It has no excuse. If the people don’t want it, if the people are “good” Catholics, then they will have no use for it. But some women, like Savita, will have no choice. Let’s care about them.