Last month, a young woman named Savita Halappanavar was murdered by an Irish hospital. Yes, murdered. Let’s call it what it is. I refuse to sugarcoat a topic that should be treated as honestly and straightforwardly as possible, without the anti-choice rhetoric or pleasant popular media wording. Savita Halappanavar was denied an abortion, and it killed her.
Halappanavar was a 31-year-old dentist living in Galway, Ireland. Was. Until she was admitted to University Hospital Galway late last month with intense pain and was found to be miscarrying the 17 week old fetus she was carrying. The hospital, stating that “this is a Catholic country,” denied her a therapeutic abortion, despite three days of miscarrying, despite no chance of survival for the fetus. Despite the septicemia that was overtaking Savita’s body. They said the fetus still had a heartbeat, ignoring the fact that so did Savita. She died in that hospital of blood poisoning after days of miscarriage. I call this murder.
After a surprisingly large media outcry, Savita Hallapanavar’s death is now being investigated by an independent investigator in Ireland. In 1992, a Supreme Court ruling declared that abortions be allowed in Ireland, a country which broadly bans abortion, if the life of the mother is at risk. One would think that blood poisoning fills that criteria. Yet because of the presence of a fetal heartbeat, the life of the mother was terminated.
The concept of the “life of the mother” is thrown about rather casually in American politics. We measure the severity of a politician’s anti-choice leanings by whether they invoke the rape and incest and life of the mother exceptions and take it for granted when they do. Call it a slow, steady decline into abortion prohibition. As long as those exceptions are there, pro-choice Americans can breathe a collective sigh of relief. It’s not that bad, right? But it is that bad, because we’ve just seen that the life of the mother means nothing. This tragedy, thousands of miles away, has confirmed to us the previosuly theoretical concept that the potential for life, no matter how small, means more than a life already living.
Savita Hallapanavar could have had a long, wonderful life. She could have continued her promising career, lived and laughed with her husband and friends and family. She could have had children one day and maybe grandchildren after that. But to the doctors at University Hospital Galway, those opportunities didn’t matter. Her life did not matter, only the heartbeat of the nonviable fetus she was miscarrying. This was not a fetus with the potential for life; it was a fetus with the certainty of death. Savita had unmeasurable potential to further the life she had already lived 31 years of. It is a tragedy that she didn’t get the chance.