Ten months after Savita’s death, has anything changed for women in Ireland?
Protection of Life During Pregnancy act
The government introduced new legislation to codify the X-Case judgment. The new law was debated in the DÃ¡il (lower house of parliament) and the Seanad (the Senate) over several long and frankly torturous weeks. 165 amendments to the bill were tabled by both pro-choice and anti-abortion members of the DÃ¡il and Seanad during the debates. I wish I could un-hear some of the things said by those politicians who purport to represent me. There was much pious concern, for example, about women faking suicidal thoughts to get an abortion; still, the hoops a woman has to jump through to get an abortion if she is suicidal are worse than those for a woman with a physical health emergency requiring termination.
The President then convened the Council of State to help him decide whether to refer the law to the Supreme Court. President Higgins is on record as being pro-choice, but had he referred the law to the Supreme Court and they had backed it, it would have made the law immune to any further attack through the courts. However, he decided against this, and the bill was officially made law on the 30th July.
The law allows for a prison term of up to 14 years for women who have an unlawful abortion or anyone who assists them in having one. Bad news for the likely thousands of women importing abortifacient drugs every year. Practically speaking, the law will not change anything for the vast majority of women who want or need abortions in the Republic of Ireland.
Catholic hospitals may not comply with the law
It’s not over yet, however: the law names 25 hospitals where such terminations can be carried out. Most if not all of them are run by Catholic boards, and several board members of one hospital, the Mater in Dublin, have said this week that they will not support terminations of pregnancy being carried out in their hospitals.
“The Mater can’t carry out abortions because it goes against its ethos. I would be very concerned that the Minister [for Health, James Reilly] sees fit to make it impossible for hospitals to have their own ethos.” – Fr. Kevin Doran, as quoted in The Irish Times.
Bear in mind this is life-threatening pregnancies we’re talking about. Thankfully there are some people shouting back:
“Is Father Doran going to stand by her bedside in the intensive care unit and prevent the doctors from giving the care she needs to save her life? …. There’s too long of a history of the Catholic Church interfering in the care of women, particularly in the area of reproductive health in this state and they really need to back off and leave it to the doctors. It’s absolutely intolerable that a hospital would deny somebody life-saving treatment in the 21st century in a Western country.” -Dr Peter Boylan
“Once again, we are being told that publicly-funded hospitals have a right to impose their Catholic ethos on their patients, it’s dominant religious teaching winning out over civil rights for all citizens.” – Emer O’Kelly, writing in the Irish Independent
It remains to be seen if these hospitals will co-operate with the law, and what legal action the government can take if they don’t.
The next campaigning focus for pro-choice organisations in Ireland is to repeal the amendment that both killed Savita Halappanavar and enabled this law to be passed: Article 40.3.3, AKA the 8th amendment to the constitution, which states:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
Without repeal of this article, no other laws can be passed for terminations of pregnancy in any other circumstances other than direct threat to the life of the pregnant woman. There has been great awareness-raising campaigning work done by Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland and they have the support of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.
Savita’s case has not been forgotten, either: Praveen Halappanavar has stated he intends to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights, and that Savita’s parents are taking a case against the Health Services Executive for negligence.
“It just happened”¦so it can happen again. Women who will not get the publicity or limelight we got. I am really concerned. The whole family doesn’t want any woman to go through want Savita went through. That is our motivation at the moment.” – Praveen, as quoted by thejournal.ie
A woman died in London after being refused an abortion in Dublin
She and her husband had decided on terminating the pregnancy as her previous pregnancy had been complex and difficult. However, as abortions are not legal in Ireland, they had to wait to get the money together to travel to England, thus requiring her to have a later-term abortion, which carries higher risks. Like Savita, she and her husband were not from Ireland but legally resident there.
“I think if this was an Irish or a British woman, we would know what happened to her. But I am still waiting for answers,” [the woman's husband] told The Irish Times. He also said he was frustrated at the lack of assistance from some Irish authorities in seeking an abortion for his wife…. “She was sick, but we were told that nothing could be done in Ireland.” – The Irish Times.
A police investigation is ongoing into the exact circumstances of this woman’s death (she has not been named), but news reports say she died as a result of internal bleeding.
Even if you’re having the baby, your rights aren’t respected
Elsewhere on the spectrum of reproductive rights, Aja Teehan is taking a court case to allow her chosen midwife to attend the planned home birth of her second child.
Aja’s daughter was delivered by Caesarean six years ago, and current practice guidelines say if her midwife, Philomena Canning, cares for her at home she will be committing a criminal offence. Most reaction I’ve seen so far can be summarised as, “The baby is more important than her! She should be a good girl and listen to the nice doctors!” No word on an adult woman’s right to informed consent, informed refusal, and choice in medical care (a good factual rebuttal of some criticisms are listed here). Her local hospital has a Caesarean rate of over 35%, and an episiotomy rate of nearly 18%. Judgment in the case is due on the 13th of August.
Sigh. We’ve got a long way to go with reproductive rights and consent culture in my country.
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