Savita Halappanavar – sadness, anger, fear and confusion

Needing to attend a hospital because you are in pain is a worrying time. Being pregnant, no doubt, makes it all the scarier as it’s not just your own life you are concerned for.

Being told that you are having a miscarriage is heart breaking beyond belief. Being left, for three days, in pain with a fully dilated cervix and leaking amniotic fluid is nothing short of barbaric.

That this happened to Savita Halappanavar and she died of septicaemia makes my blood run cold.

Why wasn’t Savita put on antibiotics, as a precautionary measure, when they realised her cervix was dilated? When they discovered that she was leaking amniotic fluid and there was no hope of the pregnancy continuing why wasn’t it ended immediately? When it wasn’t over in a few hours, like the Halappanavar’s had been told it would, why did doctors not step in to stop Savita from having to suffer further?

The answers, based on what Praveen Halappanavar says the consultant told them on the three occasions that he and Savita asked for the pregnancy to be terminated, seem to be that, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’, ‘It is the law’ and ‘this is Catholic country’.

Is that the case? Were the doctors genuinely not allowed to do anything? Is this how our medical and legal system works?

I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer, I do not know the answers to any of these questions. I hope to get them when all the inquiries into this case have concluded.

But I am a woman. A woman who believed that if a woman was miscarrying, and needed hospitalisation, then everything would be done to alleviate her suffering and ensure that the experience was the least traumatic it needed to be.

That this did not happen, for Savita, has left me sad, angry and full of fear. Sad because a woman has lost her life and her husband had to stand by, unable to do anything, as his wife deteriorated before his eyes. Angry that our politicans failure to legislate for the X Case may have caused this. Fearful because it could have been any of us.

Does the treatment a woman recieves in the event of a prolonged or incomplete miscarriage depend on the hospital they attend? Their doctor’s interpretation of how our constitution applies to the situation? Their doctor’s personal beliefs? And not to be insensitive, but, should we hope that if the situation ever arises we are all ‘uncomplicated’ enough to have complete miscarriages so none of these issues come up?

To be honest, until Savita’s death, it hadn’t occurred to me that our abortion law, or lack of a law, would apply to cases of miscarriage at all. I have never classed medical intervention in these situations as an abortion.

Yes, it is a termination but for the reason that the pregnancy is already coming to an end and I make no apology for seeing a difference between the two.

Words matter and the way we use ‘abortion’ automatically implies that it was a deliberate choice to end a pregnancy. That is not what a miscarriage is. It is the spontaneous ending of a pregnancy that, sadly, sometimes doesn’t complete itself and a Dilation and Curettage (D&C) or an evacuation of the retained products of conception (ERPC) is required.

Yes, Savita asked for her pregnancy to be ended but because she was already in the process of losing it. Does anyone think she would have done so otherwise?

If someone you know spoke about their miscarriage and the surgery they had would you use the word ‘abortion’ when talking about it with them? Would you describe their experience as an abortion to someone else? No? Then you, too, see a difference between an abortion and the ending of a miscarriage.

From speaking to friends, family and people I’ve met who have been touched by Savita’s death, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who made this distinction. The fact that we may have been wrong, to do so, has shocked us to the core.

There is a lot of confusion out there and it is this fear and confusion that propelled many of my friends and family to contact TDs and attend protest marches for the first time. Yes, they were angry but it was fear that made them act on their anger rather than simply shouting about it on Twitter and Facebook for a few days and then moving on to the next rage inducing incident. This one was different.

This could have been any woman. You, your mother, daughter, sister, cousin, niece, friend, girlfriend, wife or the woman you see every morning at the bus stop.

It was these feelings that led me to Leinster House for the vigil/protest last Wednesday evening. I needed a way of expressing my sympathy over Savita’s death. I needed the government to know that I wanted answers and action. I needed to be around people who felt the same way. I needed a way of showing that I cared enough to want things to change.

Personally, I was not there calling for abortion on demand or to use Savita’s death and the X Case as a stepping stone to reaching that goal. I was there to remind our legislators that we need legal clarification of our constitutional situation with regards to the X Case ruling from 20 years ago.

The rest is a fight for another day. A fight that I’m not particularly comfortable using Savita’s death to forward.

Abortion has always been a contentious issue. One that sees an extremely vocal and militant pro-life side argue with an extremely vocal and militant pro-choice side (and nine times out of ten it appears to be about what label they choose to call themselves by,) while a significant portion of the population are too afraid to say anything, one way or the other, because they know they’ll be shouted down by the extremes.

One thing I have seen since Savita’s death is that the people in the middle are finding their voice and looking for a way of being heard. This can only be a good thing and might finally lead to the mature, rational and calm debate that this country needs.

Yes, we need answers. We need the Expert Group’s report to be published. We need the government to act on its recommendations.

We need these things to happen sooner rather than later. We’ve waited long enough.