Own up: The State has no ownership of women’s bodies

IRELAND could just about live in the bubble of women having no choice — but a woman unable even to choose not to die has turned that smug, little, self-satisfied world upside down.

The Savita Halappanavar scandal has shown this Government, and the HSE it runs, to be cold, incompetent and inhumane.

As grieving widower Praveen complained that medical records given to his lawyers logging his wife’s final days in hospital meticulously listed every piece of toast she asked for, but, strangely, did not mention her repeated pleas for the termination she believed could have saved her life, the HSE used the ugliest language to insist Ms Halappanavar’s records were its “property” and only they had “ownership” of them.

The message was stark: the HSE wants “ownership” of Savita and believes her agonising, final, dying, days are its “property” — once that is established, then it can forget about this inconvenient woman.

That is why the HSE cannot be allowed to investigate itself. The HSE wants Praveen, whom they view as a trouble-maker, to be a good little foreigner, and shut-up and do as he is told.

That condescension was also apparent in the Dáil last Wednesday, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny used patronising language to pat Praveen on the head. “I understand he is a very decent, understanding individual,” who would do the right thing, Kenny said, before switching tack and attempting to bully the widower into “co-operating”, then cack-handedly trying to drive a wedge between Mr Halappanavar and his legal team.

Kenny said he had not contacted Mr Halappanavar because a “different construction” could be put on that, and Kenny then made an embarrassing appeal to him via national TV. Quite extraordinary.

Mr Halappanavar, to use Kenny’s patronisation, may be a “decent, understanding individual”, but he certainly does not understand why his wife had to die, because — in his version of events — Galway hospital refused to terminate a doomed pregnancy.

As for the “different construction” that Mr Kenny fears people will put on him if he meets the widower, what “different construction” would that be — that this Government actually gave a damn about the man and his dead wife, and wanted an inquiry that would get to the truth?

Doesn’t Praveen “understand” that this is Ireland, and, as well as being a “Catholic country”, it is where you are never allowed to question the crushing, top-down authority of The Men In Charge Who Know Best?

And all the while, the fiasco of the myriad, inadequate inquiries the Government was setting-up on a seemingly daily basis was playing out in the background, as it appeared the Halappanavars could have any inquiry they wanted — except one in which they could have any faith.

Three doctors from the small Galway hospital where Ms Halappanavar died were appointed onto the seven-member inquiry investigating how she died. This was inane and the three doctors were swiftly removed after the inevitable public outcry.

And then, the HSE investigation went under a mysterious name change and was suddenly just a “clinical review”, leaving space for HIQA to become involved — and leaving the Government looking utterly incompetent.

And there, amidst all the chaos, was Health Minister James Reilly, denying any of this meant he had helped turn tragedy into grim farce — of course, it was not a “shambles” he insisted (the very idea of it).

And that is correct, because it was not just a shambles; that would give the Government too much credit. To use the official word of the year, it was an “omnishambles”.

Oxford University Press has crowned “omnishambles” the top new term of 2012. It is defined as “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations,” and it was almost invented to sum up Kenny and Co’s handling of this awful death. This is the fifth crisis Dr Reilly has dealt with appallingly in four months — and this is by far the worst, as it involves a dead woman, a grieving family, and immense international reputational damage to this country.

Just how many things does Dr Reilly have to royally screw-up before he is sacked?

But at least there was leadership from within the Labour Party. Sadly, though, it was not from the Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, but the Labour DNA president, Michael D Higgins.

Stretching his constitutional role to the limits, Michael D was careful in his language, but the message was clear: ‘Just get a move on, stop offending grieving relatives and start legislating for the X-Case’.

The X-Case judgement should not divide along the usual pro-choice, pro-life fault line, as it makes us all pro-life in its true sense — pro the life of the woman involved. In the wake of Ms Halappanavar’s death, Mr Gilmore promised “speed” and “clarity” regarding X-Case legislation — we got neither.

Instead, the Cabinet will again duck the issue at its meeting next Tuesday, and cannot even say when the Dáil will debate the findings of the expert group on the matter — findings the Government refused to make public, but which, in the typical fashion of a Coalition that has lost control of the political narrative it was elected to direct, were leaked to the media.

What we did get was a Sinn Féin-sponsored motion on the need for legislation, and whether it was opportunistic or not for this supposedly all-island party to say different things on the issue north and south, it at least allowed space for a reality check in the national parliament.

The most pointed intervention in the Dáil came from Labour TD Robert Dowds, who, after declaring that he considered himself “pro-life”, added: “The reality is that if Britain was not on our doorstep, we would have had to introduce abortion legislation years ago to avoid women dying from having back-street abortions.”

That cut through to the reality Ireland tries to hide from — that today, 12 women will travel to England for a termination, just as 12 women went yesterday, and 12 more will go tomorrow.

They are all going for deeply individual reasons, because they feel this is the least-bad option open to them — and the trauma they are enduring is made all the worse because of the stigma this society attaches to the lonely journey of our friends and family members, as it pushes them out of sight and across the Irish Sea.

We’ve talked enough about the X-Case — those opposing the judgement have lost and it is now time to legislate.

Then, we can have a real national debate on what choices women, in this overwhelmingly male-governed country, have the right to exercise over their own bodies.

* RELATED STORIES:

Gilmore: Public inquiry not ruled out after HSE report

European court is an option, says lawyer

Bishops’ missive ‘reaffirms Catholic moral teaching’

Reilly rejects claims of U-turn on inquiry plan

* RELATED ANALYSIS

Let’s face our responsibilities

Higgins comments crossed the line

* RELATED OPINION:

Anti what? I’m pro a finer choice of words

Own up: The State has no ownership of women’s bodies

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