SAVITA Halappanavar was just 11-years-old when the X case judgment was handed down. Today, she’s a martyr to the political cowardice that, for two decades, refused to implement that ruling.
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Irish State had breached a cancer patient’s human rights by failing to have a legislative, or regulatory, framework in place outlining her right to a life-saving abortion.
At the end of this month Government representatives will travel to Strasbourg to update the court on the progress that has been made in implementing those mandated changes to our antiquated abortion regime.
Regrettably, the only definitive thing that can be related is that, two years later, a woman is now dead and the same legal quagmire still persists.
It could happen again. To me, to your wife, to your girlfriend, to your sister, to any woman who’s unfortunate enough to be in this country when experiencing a crisis pregnancy.
This is not emotive hyperbole or, as some have suggested, the “hijacking” of Savita’s tragic death for a base political purpose. It’s a simple statement of fact.
The Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, has said: “I think it is very disappointing that, 20 years after the X case, we don’t have legislation and I think that it really does need to happen.”
Prof. Sam Coulter Smith, the Master of the Rotunda, is also in agreement: “This is all about providing safe and effective care for patients and legislation is required to provide that care … the medical profession want legislation so they can manage difficult situations.”
Remember, these “difficult decisions” are not abstract problems but real women whose lives hang in the balance because of our draconian abortion system.
One such woman, Gráinne Bray, on RTE’s The Frontline on Monday, spoke in harrowing detail of how doctors refused to intervene in her pregnancy for fear of harming her seven-week-old twin foetuses.
“From the day I did my pregnancy test I was in acute pain, but I was turned away from A&E several times because I wasn’t bleeding and I wasn’t miscarrying. They couldn’t help me.
“One night I collapsed at home and was rushed to hospital, but they still couldn’t intervene because the foetal heartbeats were still there. That went on for another week. I was in acute pain, had an elevated white cell count, fever, drenched in sweat — they could not intervene.
“Eventually, we lost the babies and I was brought down to theatre … when they opened me up, the surgeon said he couldn’t see any internal organs I was so full of pus … the consultant told my husband that if the foetuses hadn’t died when they did, I would have been dead within a week,” she said.
Mrs Bray isn’t alone. According to Dr Mark Murphy, who has published research in this area, there have been many cases when mothers, with a real and substantial risk to their lives, were forced to travel abroad for a termination of their pregnancy.
Dr Murphy, in his research, found that 9% of GPs had managed a pregnant patient with a life-threatening medical condition, but recorded only one instance of an Irish doctor performing a termination in an Irish hospital — in a case of severe preeclampsia.
“All the other cases travelled abroad for a termination despite the fact their GP felt they had a real and substantial risk to their life,” he said.
These threats to life included pregnant women with cancer who required an abortion to avail of treatment like chemotherapy; women with severe cardiovascular disease requiring termination to prevent maternal ill health and those at severe psychiatric risk, like rape victims.
So, desperately ill women in these appalling situations are handed their medical files and told, “you may want to travel” — the euphemism used when women are exported, with no consideration given to the potential impact on their psychological health, to access abortion services abroad.
“To delineate and categorise those medical conditions on each side of that nebulous line between ill-health and life-threatening illness is difficult … the grey areas of medicine are perhaps not appreciated by the public,” said Dr Murphy.
This is where our politicians, our legislators, are supposed to step in and provide legal clarity but, even now, they are dithering over what to do despite Supreme Court judges, referendum results, the European Court of Human Rights and a plethora of medical professionals leaving them in no doubt about what is required.
What exactly are they waiting for? Another death? Another 14-year-old rape victim to test her legal rights in the courts? In fact, politicians know that the current situation is untenable. Last year, according to solicitor Michael Boylan, the State settled with his client, a terminally ill cancer patient who was denied a termination in this country, when she sued alleging a breach to her human rights. How many more of these cases exist? Enough. We have had enough. Enough tragedy, enough procrastination, enough reports, enough debate, enough inaction and enough of politicians who profess to be pro-life but would gladly sacrifice women’s lives on the altar of their perverse morality.
Refusing to be drawn on whether the Government should legislate for the X case on Monday, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said she didn’t want “rancour and ill will” to define the debate.
BUT people are angry. They’re boiling with rage. It’s palpable. And, finally, it’s going to change things.
I joined the 20,000 people who took to the streets in Dublin on Saturday, to remember Savita and demand change, precisely because I am angry.
I was in primary school when the X case judgment was handed down and am angry that, 20 years later, we’re still having the same tedious, anachronistic debate.
I am angry that after a referendum in 2002, which endorsed the X case judgment, politicians are still unwilling to act and give effect to the majority will of the Irish people.
I am angry that, among some commentators, equivalence is afforded to a living, breathing woman’s life and the potential life of an unviable foetus. I think my life is worth more.
I am angry that in Ireland, in 2012, a young woman is alleged to have begged for medical treatment to save her life and was denied it “because this is a Catholic country”.
I am angry that any woman, in a similar situation, could be left in agony for days on end because the same medical confusion still applies.
To those who say that anger is not a policy, I say that neither is complacency or apathy.
Politicians may have buried this issue but, ultimately, the people of this country indulged their equivocation and cowardice and let them get away with it. If it transpires that an abortion would have saved Savita’s life then we all have blood on our hands.
So, before there is another tragic incident it’s time to get angry and send TDs a clear and unambiguous message: Never again. The time for talking is over. Now, it’s time to act.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved
More in this section