This is what happens when women are not allowed to make their own medical choices.

I generally stick to domestic Vagina News, but is too important not to share.

On October 21, a 31-year-old dentist named Savita Halappanavar went to the hospital in Ireland. She was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child, and was experiencing extreme back pain. Doctors told her to go home, but she refused. Soon, her water broke and it became clear she was having a miscarriage. Doctors told her the fetus had no chance of survival and it would be over in a few hours.

It wasn’t. Over the next 3 days, she developed a fever, was unable to walk, was in agonizing pain, vomiting, shaking violently, and passing out. All this time, her cervix was open, exposing her to infection akin to an open head wound. She repeatedly asked for an abortion, which would have allowed the cervix to close and made treatment possible, but was told that Ireland is a Catholic country, and that the hospital could not perform an abortion while the fetus had a heartbeat. (Savita was Hindu.)

Two days after being told her fetus had no chance of survival, the fetal heartbeat stopped, and the fetus was removed – but it was too late. On October 28, Savita died of septicemia (blood poisoning) and E.coli, as a direct result of the abortion not being performed when she asked for it.

The Guardian reports that “Just two months ago, a consortium of Irish doctors got together to
declare abortion medically unnecessary. They claimed that abortion is never needed to save a pregnant woman’s life, and stated: “We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.””

Sound familiar, American readers? It should.

The BBC provides this summary of abortion law in Ireland; “… the country’s abortion laws are a mess and have been for 20 years since what was called the ‘X case’.

‘X’ was a suicidal pregnant 14-year-old school girl, the victim of a rape who was initially prevented from leaving the state to terminate her pregnancy. The Irish Supreme Court ruled that the mother and child have an equal right to life but that the threat of suicide was grounds for an abortion.

However, no government has enacted legislation to give certainty to doctors as to when terminations can be carried out and under what circumstances.”

As a result, doctors fear losing their license and insurance or being jailed for performing an abortion, per the Offences against the Person Act of 1861. (Yes, 1861. The same law dictates penalties for things like impeding a person trying to save himself from a shipwreck, failing to provide servants with food, and “Casting Stone upon a Railway Carriage, with Intent to endanger the Safety of any Person therein.”)

Much of the ambiguity in Irish law governing abortion is a result of the availability of legal abortion in neighboring Britain; Many in Ireland avoid confronting the problems that result from denying  women abortions, reasoning that those who truly want or need the procedure can travel to England.

But in cases of medical emergency, like Savita’s, that’s not an option. 

Her death is now the subject of two investigations, and pressure is mounting for the Irish government to finally clarify the laws governing abortion. Earlier this year, the United Left Alliance (an Irish political party, as far as I can tell) tried to pass a bill to legalize abortion, but it was rejected.

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