Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Ireland and Abortion, and the Death of a Woman.

I saw a post online somewhere in the last week in which a woman described herself as anti-abortion, but pro-choice.

I think that best describes my stance on the subject as well. I don't think I could ever have an abortion (though I can't know for sure, in a terrible situation who knows what I would do?), but I fully support the rights of women who do feel that they need to have one, for whatever reason.

Making abortion illegal doesn't prevent women having abortions. It just means they have to have a more dangerous abortion. In the case of Irish women, they have to travel to another country, often alone. In other countries, as it was here in the past, it is even more dangerous because they go to back-street abortion clinics which place their health and even lives at risk.

Things that help prevent abortions include:
  • Making contraception freely and easily available, and encouraging its use (a recent study showed that 24% of Irish people still believe that a woman who carries condoms is easy (journal.ie) - a shameful attitude that is grounded in the notion that if you carry condoms you are going out expecting to have sex [and let's not forget that that's sinful sex, out of wedlock] whereas if you end up getting a bit drunk and doing something stupid like having sex and you get pregnant, then that was an accident at least , to intend to commit a sin is worse than ending up in that situation, a bit like premeditated murder is worse than manslaughter). Contraception helps stop pregnancies occuring, stopping the problem before it even becomes a problem. It saves lives and livelihoods.
  • Sex education in schools, right from the start. Teach children about relationships and love and include sex in that. Also, make sure that girls and boys have the confidence in themselves and their bodies not to do anything sexual until they feel ready. The age that is will vary from person to person, teenagers are individuals. But no one, male or female, should ever feel pressured into having sex. And someone who feels pressured into sex is far less likely to insist on condoms than someone who is making an informed decision to enjoy their body and that of another person and all the pleasures that can bring. Talk to children about bodies, sex and saying yes as well as saying no!!!
  • Have services available for women who have a crisis pregnancy but don't want to have an abortion. This includes things like creating, rather than cutting, funding for women in difficult situations like violent relationships so that they can escape those terrible situations and be independent; and making it possible for women to continue in work or study part time or with flexible hours so that having a child they didn't expect or want doesn't land them in the poverty trap - as a recent study (in the USA) showed is very likely to happen.
And yet even if all those things were to happen, sometimes women will still want an abortion, and I would rather that they got them than that a child is born unwanted and a woman is forced to be a person she doesn't feel she can be - because becoming a parent, pregnancy, labour, birth and the flood of hormones that follows - changes you as a person. Anything that gives you a such an intense flood of oxytocin and adrenaline will. I honestly felt like my brain was rewired. It changed me. The Jo I was before my daughter was born was a slightly different person to the Jo am I now.

This is the wider debate on abortion. Abortion is illegal in Ireland, and to be honest, if there was a referendum on the subject again I have no confidence that that would change.Anbd while there are some very right wing pro-lifers (e.g. Youth Defence - not even going to link to them, google if you're interested), there are also many people who would like to see the above policies put in place while maintaining the status quo of abortion being illegal. And in their cases I have a lot of sympathy for their position, even if I don't agree with it - it is very similar to that expressed by T. Friedman, an American columnist in the lead up to their recent elections.

So that is my view on the abortion debate. However,what tragically happened to Savita Hallappanvar was not even related to this wider abortion debate, not really.

The full facts of the case are not known yet as the official investigations are still ongoing. However, from what has been reported and not refuted:
 - Savita went to hospital with back pain and was told that she was having a miscarriage.
 - The miscarriage was inevitable; the cervix was open and there was no way that the pregnancy could be saved. She was 17 weeks pregnant.
 - She asked for the pregnancy to be terminated at this point, when she knew there was no hope. She didn't ask for a healthy pregnancy to be aborted; she wanted this baby but there was no chance of it surviving at this point.
 - She was refused, according to her husband being told "This is a Catholic Country".
 - There was still a feotal heartbeat at this point, even though the pregnancy was doomed.
 - A few days later, she died of scepticaemia.

No, it isn't certain that terminating the pregnancy at that point would have saved her life, but it would have given her a much better chance.

The doctors failed to act - why? Incompetance, religiosity or a fear of being sued or even arrested? The latter is included because twenty years ago, this subject came up in what is referred to as the X case  . At that time, the Supreme court determined that abortion was constitutionally permissable in Ireland if the life of the mother was at risk. However the "Life of the mother at risk" is a vague statement a lot of times, as constitutional statements tend to be. Legislation is where the specifics are dealt with, and yet in twenty years there has been no legislation, no move to legislate on this issue. Where is the line determining at what point the life of the mother is at risk? Surely a group of experts could sit down and draw lines around specifics, so that it is very clear to doctors everywhere what their legal obligations are in these situations.

If you're in Ireland, you can use the following link to call on your local representatives to legislate for X: http://www.nwci.ie/takeaction/

Whether you are pro choice or not, this issue needs to be legislated on, immediately. Then we can, as a society, have the wider abortion debate. But first, we have to make sure no more women die.

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