Late last month a woman died in an Irish hospital after being refused an abortion, even when she told the doctors she was miscarrying. The case has immediately re-opened the debate about the right to abortion not only when the mother’s life is in danger but as her right to choose.
The 31-year-old woman, Savita Halappanavar, was 17 weeks’ pregnant with her first child when she started to experience back pain. When the pain continued she asked the consultant if she could be induced and their response was “unfortunately you can’t because it’s a Catholic country.” When Savita said she is not Catholic, she is Hindu so why should the law be imposed on her the response was “I’m sorry, unfortunately it’s a Catholic country and it’s the law that they can’t abort when the foetus is live.”
The baby’s heartbeat stopped 3 days later and Savita died just 4 days after that from septicaemia.
Ireland’s position on abortion is that “it is lawful to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland 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”.
However it is clear that this law isn’t followed through as Savita and her husband requested a termination several times but were told while there was still a foetal heartbeat one would not be carried out even though the couple were told the baby wouldn’t survive. Doctors are left to decide on a case-by-case basis as to whether to allow terminations to take place.
Irish anti-abortion groups continue to insist that the Republic’s laws were not responsible for Halappanavar’s death.
Niamh Uí Bhriain, of the Life Institute, said: “It is very sad to see abortion campaigners rush to exploit this case to further their own agenda. The tragic loss of Savita Halappanavar’s life was not caused by Ireland’s ban on abortion. We need to ensure that mothers and babies are best protected; and abortion is not part of best medical practise. It is medieval medicine.”
Before a women’s right to choose even comes into it there are many medically valid reasons for performing abortions ranging from physiological ones such as severe depression leading to suicidal thoughts to physical conditions such as pre-eclampsia. It is clear that it was solely Ireland’s ban on abortion which caused this woman to die as if she had been allowed a termination before she became ill it’s unlikely she would have contracted blood poisoning.
Even if there is no medical condition associated with the pregnancy then it should be a woman’s right to choose whether she wants an abortion. Over 4000 women leave Ireland each year in search of abortions each year, which is far safer than taking the risk of a back street abortion.
We say: fighting society’s right to tell a women what to do with her body is the first step in fighting the social oppression of women, which is expressed in lower wages, higher unemployment, sexual assault and misogynist ideas in the mainstream media.
We stand for:
A woman’s right to choose – free abortion on demand
Scrap all anti-abortion laws and the two-doctor rule
A working-class women’s movement to defend the rights of women