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.