It would seem that women's bodies are not their own in Northern Ireland. As the country's medieval abortion laws claim yet another victim, women all over the UK are asking themselves how such barbaric deaths are still being allowed to happen in modern Britain.
The answer? Legislation, created by men, supported by the beliefs of a church system also created by men, and violently upheld at every opportunity by, that's right, men. Call it inflammatory, call it feminist, call it whatever you like but I happen to believe that women's right to choose is simply one issue on which men do not have the right to decide.
A quick scan of the opinion pages of the newspapers will reveal streams of articles written by men on this issue, citing pro-life arguments or even the fact that 'there is no proof that an abortion would have saved Savita Halappanavar's life'. Will any of these men ever have to go through an unwanted pregnancy, will any of them ever be raped and told they have to keep the baby, will they suffer the pain and agony of miscarrying only to have to carry the dead baby in their womb for the rest of their pregnancy and then have to deliver that baby? No. But Irish women will, in fact they already do. Of course, there are plenty of women who support the current legislation too, but as the statistics show, this isn't stopping hundreds of thousands of Irish women every year from travelling to the rest of the UK for abortions.
As this case shows, support of the pro-life stance even seems to have extended as far as the medical profession. Blind rhetoric aside, from a purely medical point of view, the medical staff should have saved Savita Halappanavar. It is my understanding that potentially non-viable seventeen week old foetuses rarely survive, whereas Ms Halappanavar's condition when she first arrived in hospital was not yet life-threatening. So where is the line? When does religious belief become tantamount to medical negligence? As an enquiry into this case is opened, protests have already been held all over Ireland by women, and men, campaigning for a change in the law.
Abortion law in Ireland has been a problematic issue since the 80's, when the X case, that of a 14 year old rape victim who was suicidal and was therefore allowed to travel to the UK for an abortion, saw the first ruling of abortion on 'medical grounds'. There have been many subsequent cases, but the legislation remains unclear, and this results in a 'grey area' which the Irish government appear unwilling to clarify as long as they can ship the problem over to the rest of the UK. But, as this case shows, a clarification in the law is needed before more women die at the hands of the state, and more doctors are branded negligent.
The complete ban on abortion sends out the message that women are simply vehicles to bring life into the world and, if they lose their own life in the process, well, at least they have fulfilled their ultimate purpose. The debate on abortion in general is a polemic issue which allows for a variety of opinions, but in this case, what is really being debated is whether the life of a premature, potentially non-viable foetus is worth more than that of a fully grown adult woman. The Irish state would appear to believe that it is, as do the streams of pro-lifers who have weighed in on this issue to clamour that it doesn't warrant a change in the law. Savita Halappanavar was reportedly told, when in agony and already dying to save her seventeen week old foetus, 'this is a Catholic country'.
What living in a Catholic country appears to mean is that the state, not the woman herself or even the highly qualified doctors entrusted with her care, decides women's fate. If this were to happen in any other nation in the world we would call it totalitarianism. In Ireland, it's called religion.
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