Enough is Enough When A Lack of Choice Kills Julia Gazdag

When a pregnant Savita Halappanavar checked into Ireland’s University Hospital Galway on October 21st, presenting with intense back pain, she was expecting medical treatment. Found to be miscarrying, and despite feverish shaking and vomiting, she was denied when she requested that the fetus be removed. She was told that “[Ireland] is a Catholic country”, and after the fetal heartbeat stopped, two and a half days into her painful and violent ordeal, the fetus was removed. Halappanavar was taken to intensive care, where she died of septicaemia and E.coli ESBL. All of this was foreseeable and medically expected in a case like hers, though it doesn’t take much to know that something dying inside your body is a threat to it. I don’t know much about race relations in Ireland, but the image of a Hindu woman being told “this is a Catholic country” and left to die of septicaemia (a known and not uncommon complication of miscarriage) does make me take pause.

While this particular incident happened in Ireland, it is alarmingly relevant to women in America today. We’ve just spent a good portion of a presidential race talking about abortion, including a seemingly endless stream of male politicians voicing their religious opinions on a legal matter that has to do with an experience they will never have. Throwing rape into the conversation was apparently just an added bonus. One of the biggest lessons about choice was sadly demonstrated by Halappanavar’s experience: she was not a Catholic, and yet she not only had to abide by a religious belief foisted on her by doctors, she died because of it. As per the Hippocratic Oath, priority is the life of the patient, not proselytization, and this carries over into legislation. Medical regulations should serve the patient, not the religious beliefs of one portion of a given population, especially when that belief can be life threatening.

As of right now, women’s rights have dodged a fair few bullets with the outcome of local and national elections. Paul Ryan, the guy who almost became our Vice President, would have stood by the doctors who cost Savita Halappanavar her life, based on the statements he’s made on his stance regarding abortion. As of right now, Georgia still upholds a law, passed by a narrow margin in April, which puts every woman with a miscarriage at the same risk that killed Halappanavar. To add insult to injury, it does so on the basis that if livestock can do it, so can women (except livestock can’t do it, so none of this holds up, but Georgia had just enough fervently Christian men to vote on HB 954 to pass it — though how Christian this attitude is, is questionable).

Enough. Enough of men ranting about pregnancies and abortion and rapes, enough of legislating against medical knowledge, enough of women having to suffer and have their lives be at risk because a belief they don’t share made its way into law, in a country that calls for a separation of church and state. Enough of giving religion a bad name when its greatest potential is to create community and offer safety and comfort to those in need. Enough of expecting special treatment for a belief system in a way that tramples on other belief systems. Enough of spending time, energy and money on public conversations about vaginas and uteri and what to do with them, while teens are homeless, public education loses funding, and unemployment is anywhere above 0%.

A miscarried fetus is a threat on its mother’s life, not on anyone’s religion. I may not be a Christian, but I see the value in the idea that “Jesus Saves” — if this is true, then his teachings shouldn’t be used as a weapon.

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  1. Let’s just put things in perspective: I have lived in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the US. Equality between men and women in Ireland surpasses that in America by an extremely wide margin. The wage gap is a good 10% smaller in Ireland compared to the US. Maternity leave is paid in Ireland, which is not required in the US, and it is nearly five months longer in Ireland than any employer offers in the US. Not to mention prenatal care is covered, whereas in the US having a baby costs a good $10,000 if you are not insured. And once the child is born there is such a thing as child benefit, something nearly nonexistent in the US. Also, let’s take a look at schooling. Third level education is nearly free in Ireland, and in the US it costs anywhere from 10 to 40 grand a year to educate yourself. This results in many women in the US starting university and dropping out once they’ve gotten pregnant, choosing to be stay at home mothers (w/o child benefit) instead of getting into a career. Not so in Ireland. Women stay the course of their education, if they choose to pursue it. The Magdelene Laundries are seriously irrelevant in this day and age. You are talking about a country that was controlled by the hand of the Catholic Church thanks to Eamonn de Valera allowing that to happen back in the 1930s when Ireland was still a third world country. Lets not forget what happens to countries whose situations are dire; they hand the reigns to those who promise recovery. Germany – Hitler, anyone? In the past 30 years Ireland has done extremely well to pull itself out of third world status and expedite itself from a country once ruled from by the hand of the Vatican to a largely secular, forward thinking nation. Change takes time, and Ireland has done remarkably well. America, on the other hand, has no hardship on which to blame its social issues.

  2. Speaking as an Irishwoman, I find this case deeply disturbing and utterly shameful. It saddens me to see my country looking so backwards in the eyes of other nations. We have to modernize and give women the rights to their own bodies.

  3. Here, here, Julia!! Priorities need to be sorted out!

  4. Ireland also just recently (1990s) closed down the last of the Magdalene laundries and legalized birth control. A place where women were forced labour, and were abused in various fashions, for reasons such as rape. The dehumanization in these laundries were atrocious. The climate in Ireland is not exactly pro-woman. The nation is very slow to pass legislation to promote equality and rights for women. Unfortunately, this case is just one example illustrating Ireland’s need for progression. It is sad that death is what brought this issue to light.

  5. I should add that I say this only in defence of Ireland, and not because I think what happened is in any way excusable. It is a terrible tragedy, and I feel very, very sad for this loss. I am pro-abortion, and not religious, but I do not want Ireland’s global reputation destroyed over a serious lapse in judgment, but one the government is trying to swiftly rectify for the future.

  6. I understand that, but as such, it is still the responsibility of the hospital to find out where they stand in the grey areas. The media portrays law forbidding abortion as being the prevailing opinion of the Irish public, when it is not. The media has no place smearing the reputation of a decent country. The media is important, but not when it reports with an agenda. The media should report facts, and facts only. No opinions.

  7. I wish something about this case would have been made clear. In Ireland, abortions have been legal for nearly 40 years in the case where the mother’s life is in danger. This was an unforgivable lapse in the doctors’ judgment, and they alone are responsible. Ireland is not to blame, and accordingly, there has been an investigation launched to find out why this happened. Ireland cares deeply for human rights. I am sick of the media sticking its nose where it does not belong, skewing facts and painting an inaccurate picture of how Ireland treats its people.

    • Although legislation was passed to make it legal, no laws have been made to indicate as such, so doctors and other caregivers aren’t sure in what manner they are allowed to treat patients without getting in trouble. This is a huge problem. Unless it’s made an actual law, their hands are tied. (I have an ob/gyn in Ireland who just recently related this to me.)
      Also, it is very much the place if the media to expose incidents which involve a woman dying needlessly. How else would we have known about this?

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