This weeks' protest outside the Irish Embassy in London over the death of Savita Halappanavar was a first for me. I've been to dozens of pro-choice protests before but this was the first time I've attended one with no sign whatsoever of a counter-protest. I guess it's hard to claim to be 'pro-life' when someone is actually dead.
The Internet is not so respectful. Already the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child has a statement out. In it they claim "Abortion is not medicine - it does not treat or cure any pathology". Perhaps I should explain. A woman's cervix spends most of its time so firmly closed that even tiny little sperm have to really fight to get in. During birth or miscarriage the cervix dilates to let the baby or foetus out. Then it closes up again. The facts as we, so far, understand them are that Ms Halappanavar was seventeen weeks pregnant when she went to the hospital and had full cervical dilation. Medical professionals at the hospital agreed that miscarriage was inevitable. While waiting for the miscarriage to run its course the cervix remains open. Doctors describe this as like having an open head injury. It's a problem because as time passes the likelihood of an infection getting in increases. Speeding the miscarriage along by removing the contents of the womb serves to dramatically reduce the risk. The medical team refused to do this for four whole days, Halappanavar, by this stage in agony, developed an infection, septicaemia, and died.
That is the 'pathology'. I understand it (and I'm a comedian with a maths degree), Savita Halappanavar understood this because she could not have qualified as a dentist without studying infections like septicaemia.
SPUC go on to say "It is also not ethical to end the life of an unborn child, via induction or any other means, where the child is terminally-ill." They seriously choose to value the additional four days that the foetus spent slowly dying over the forty or fifty years of fulfilling life that this brilliant woman might have spent serving her community and supporting her family and friends. If I had to think of a term for this attitude I'd call it 'anti-life' or maybe 'pro-death'.
They also tell us "the Republic of Ireland has the world's best record in maternal health", which may have been true the last time numbers were published but with this case and the two deaths in childbirth at Coombe women's hospital in Dublin last month is undoubtedly out of date. Regardless, the safety of pregnancy and birth in Ireland can be largely credited to capitalism. The competitive pricing of flights to England with the likes of Aer Lingus and Ryanair mean that with help from family and friends and organisations like the Abortion Support Network the majority of women in need are able to travel and access the service they need.
The statement from the Irish Precious Life campaign says much the same thing. Medically, they 'explai'" "delay in administering antibiotics may have been the cause of the septicaemia which tragically led to her death". This is 1984-standard doublethink, an infection was caused by a delay in administering drugs intended to treat said infection? Antibiotics don't cure infection with a one hundred percent success rate, they help your body fight the infection more effectively, which wouldn't be necessary if the infection had been avoided in the first place.
They go on to accuse pro-choicers like me of "rushing to exploit this case to further their own agenda" forgetting that it is the brave and deliberate decision of Halappanavar's family to speak openly about the case that has brought it to the public's attention. They did not do this in the hope that we would remain silent and allow others to die as she did. Asked by the press if a termination would have saved her life, her husband Praveen replied "Of course, no doubt about it".
If I am ever a victim of an unjust legal discrepancy that infringes my human rights and leads to my untimely and unnecessary agonising death I want every man, woman and child on the streets immediately demanding that it never, ever be allowed to happen again.
A further vigil and rally for Savita Halappanavar will take place on Saturday at 4pm outside the Irish Embassy in London. For more information contact Abortion Rights UK.
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