She was thirty-one and 17 weeks pregnant: a dentist, living in Galway with her husband Praveen. She went to hospital with pain in her back.
The doctors told her she was fully dilated, her water had broken, and there was no chance of having the healthy baby she and Praveen had wanted. They told her she would miscarry in the next 24 hours.
She asked them why they couldn’t terminate the pregnancy if there was no chance for the baby. They told her that because it still had a detectable heartbeat, there was nothing, legally, they could do.
She didn’t miscarry that day; or the next; or the next. The foetus still had a heartbeat. There was nothing they could do, they told her. They had the means, and the skill, but they didn’t – couldn’t – help her.
For three days, she begged them.
I don’t know if she realised she was begging for her life.
Two weeks ago, using the online form set up by the National Women’s Council of Ireland, I asked my elected representatives what women’s lives were worth to them and to their party. I told them that if their government (four out of my five TDs are from the government parties; one is the Minister for Justice) didn’t legislate for the X-case (and preferably more), I would never vote for them again. I asked them why they, as legislators, did not consider my life and those of my friends and loved ones – and all the women of Ireland – worth their time and attention.
I didn’t feel then, and I don’t now, that that was an exaggeration.
I didn’t know then that Savita was already dead.
My friends and my mother went to the protest in Dublin on Wednesday night. My mother texted me: This is too much to ignore. She was one of at least a thousand who sat outside the DÃ¡il that night in solidarity with Savita, her loved ones, and all the women of Ireland whose lives and health are at risk because of the cowardice of this government and the ones before them.
My friends and I went to the protest in London, outside the Irish embassy. I carried a candle, the first one I could find in my rush out of the train station. Some kind British people, appalled at what they’d heard on the news, helped me light it. I left it on the steps of the embassy, surrounded by photos of Savita.
There has been some debate – given what has been reported about how Savita died – about whether the X-case really did apply to her; whether she was sick enough – at risk of death enough – before her foetus’s heart stopped for the X-case to apply. Maybe not. Maybe the septicemia that killed her wasn’t diagnosable before the operation she eventually had; maybe it only developed afterwards.
But the standard of care for her was delivery and antibiotics.
There is no medically defensible position for doing anything other than optimal pain control and hastening delivery by the safest means possible. - Dr. Jennifer Gunter.
The people caring for her knew they were risking her health, if not her life: but her health was not enough for the laws.
And whatever the HSE investigation says eventually, it doesn’t matter whether X-case legislation would have helped. She shouldn’t have had to suffer the way she did. No woman should have to suffer the way she did. We have no idea how many women suffered like her; how many have died; how many survive to tell their stories
I was constantly bleeding and having to endure the frightening experience of very heavy hemorrhages at any time. They said as long as there was a heartbeat, there was nothing they could do. I was discharged again and this happened twice more and each time, things were getting worse for both of us. Again, in tears I begged my doctor to do something but his hands were completely tied legally. – Kiera, TFMR Ireland.
Pro-choice campaigners in Ireland have been pushing for X-case legislation for twenty years. We have marched, protested, written, donated, called – we have begged.
Savita begged, too.
Savita had a heartbeat, too.
Tell me what Savita’s life is worth. Tell me, what are our lives worth?
If you are in Ireland or the UK, please try to attend any of the protests that are happening this weekend: there is a list here.
If you can’t, please write to the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, and the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, expressing how you feel and urging them to legislate to protect women’s lives and health. C/o Leinster House, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, Republic of Ireland. You can also write to the Irish embasssy or consulate in your country: there is a list here.
And please, if you can, donate to the Abortion Support Network, who help women in Ireland with advice, accommodation and money so they can get the care in Britain that they should be able to get at home.