Why Choice is the only choice

I had a different post planned for today, but Savita Halappanavar’s story intervened.

Her tragic death illustrates the problem with ‘life/health of the mother exceptions.’ The details of such policies are rarely discussed, but they inevitably includes a provision that says the doctor, not the patient, decides whether a woman’s health or life is jeopardized by a pregnancy. That means two things. One, the definition of ‘health’ is up to the doctor, not the patient. For example, if a woman faces incontinence as a result of a pregnancy, she may feel that’s enough of a compromise to her health to warrant an abortion, but her doctor may not. Two, the patient’s care will be influenced by how concerned that particular doctor is about the various potential legal repercussions of the decision; In Savita’s case, the hospital felt they ran a greater legal risk by giving her an abortion than by letting her die as a result of denying her one. ‘Life/health of the mother’ exceptions make such situations inevitable.

‘Rape exceptions’ have similar problems. (Many are laid out in an excellent blog post by a former prosecutor and expert on sexual assault cases who usually writes about classic literature, but felt compelled to speak out on this issue.) Restricting abortion access to those who have been victims of a crime means involving the legal system in a patient’s care. Do we intend to require a woman to prove she was raped before being allowed to have an abortion? Let’s set aside the fact that that’s exactly what was rejected by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, and look at why it doesn’t work. Does she only have to prove she was raped, or does she have to identify her rapist? We can’t require that the rapist be found and convicted, because there are many cases in which a rape clearly took place, but the rapist is never caught (even when the victim files a report, has a medical exam, and the DNA matches a convicted rapist.) If she just has to prove a rape occurred, what if the she didn’t immediately report it, so there’s no physical evidence? (Rapists often threaten further violence if the victim reports the assault.) Would the alleged victim be the plaintiff or the defendant, and who would argue against her? Is this a civil or criminal issue, and what’s the burden of proof? It takes longer than 24 weeks (the current limit on legal abortion) to bring a case from charge to verdict (or whatever this would be, in the absence of a charge) – how would we expedite these cases so an abortion could take place? What about the appeals process? Long story short, this approach is unworkable.

The alternative is to allow women to have abortions based on claims of having been raped, and then put them through some legal process afterwards to determine whether they were telling the truth. (This time we’ll set aside the fact that the “pro-life” movement would probably reject this as vehemently as full legalization.) Many of the same problems apply, plus some new ones. If a woman is found not to have been raped, but she had an abortion, what do we charge her with, and what’s the sentence? If life begins at conception and the unborn have the same rights as everyone else, is she eligible for the death penalty? Is the doctor who performed the abortion an accessory to murder? What if it’s a case of incest or statutory rape in which the sex was consensual, but still illegal? If the alleged victim is a minor, who will be punished if the rape claim is found to be false – the minor or her parents or guardians?

It all brings me back to the same place – the only workable solution is to allow women to make their own decisions, and live with the consequences. 

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.

The Invisible War


We’ve talked about the massive and little-discussed issue of military sexual assault.

There’s a documentary about it that I was to see (and dread seeing.) Here’s the trailer.

Please visit the film’s website, and consider sharing this video. This kind of issue feeds on secrecy, but can be pushed to the forefront through public pressure – and that starts with awareness.

Tammy Baldwin – Kicking ass on Day 1

You may recall that one of the women elected to the Senate last Tuesday is Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, and Congress’s first openly gay woman.

Wisconsin’s other Senator is Ron Johnson, a Tea Party Republican whose claims to fame include attributing global warming to  “sunspot activity or just something in the geologic eons of time” and opposing a state bill that would have eliminated the statute of limitations for people who were sexually abused as children – you know, so that once they grew up and learned about laws and stuff, they could help put pedophiles in jail. Didn’t think that was a good idea. (He’s also anti gay marriage and pro life, which probably goes without saying.)  

His response to Baldwin’s election was to tell the Associated Press that he looked forward to explaining the federal budget to her. (In the same interview, he blamed Obama’s re-election on an ignorant electorate.) 

Here’s Baldwin’s response:

“I was a double major in college in mathematics and political science, and I served for six years on the House Budget Committee in my first six years in the House… I am very confident that when proposals come before the U.S. Senate, I will be able to evaluate them as to how they benefit or harm middle-class Wisconsinites. A yardstick of ‘does it create jobs,’ ‘does it lower the deficit’ and ‘does it help grow the middle class’ is an important one. I’m quite confident that I have those abilities.”

Tammy Baldwin, I think we’re gonna get along juuuust fine.

Spin and the Single Woman

In the aftermath of the election, I’ve been paying special attention to the spin on the role women played in the outcome. 

The focus is definitely on single women, who voted in unprecedented numbers and broke hard for Obama. As with many aspects of the race, it seems everyone knew it was going to happen but Republicans; Google ‘Republican single women’ and you’ll find several good articles, written months ago, predicting exactly that. (You’ll also find what I can only imagine are some interesting dating sites.)

Here are a few articles I found especially interesting. If you have others, post them in the comments! (In the meantime, I’m working on the mothership… Stay tuned!)



Post election: