by Siobhan Carroll
Hello dear readers! It has been a while. Like many of you, I suffered mightily from a post-election hangover and needed a month or so to recover. A trip to Ireland, copious amounts of turkey and one Christmas tree later, I have returned just in time for Rick Perry to remind us all why he is (thankfully) not president.
For me this story doesn’t start in Texas. It starts several thousand miles away in the Dublin hotel my husband and I were staying in when we sat down for breakfast and I perused the paper. Savita. A name we would hear almost constantly throughout the next several days of travels. W:RUN did a fantastic job of covering this story from afar, but for those who are not aware, Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant, miscarrying and in pain when she requested an abortion. She was denied said abortion by doctors in her Galway hospital because the fetus still had a heartbeat and “Ireland is a Catholic country”, according to her husband. Savita contracted an infection and died of sepsis, an avoidable outcome had a timely abortion been performed and appropriate antibiotic measures been taken. She was a wife, a daughter, a dentist in her adopted homeland- a productive and loved member of society.
I am an Irish American. This trip to the motherland was the 7th time I’ve gone over in less than 20 years. Much has changed in recent years-as my husband noted that “there isn’t a cross on every street corner now”- but Ireland is still very much a catholic country, and the church still wields enormous influence. This is a nation where divorce was forbidden in the Constitution. (What would Rush Limbaugh have to say about that?) It was only repealed by referendum in 1996 and even then by less than a percentage point. One better, you need to have lived apart from your spouse for 4 of the last five years to even begin the divorce process. The populace has responded by simply not getting married- the Irish Examiner reports that marriage rates in 2011 were the lowest in a decade, and the average age of marriage was 38 for men and 31 for women. In the US it was 29 and 26, respectively. This is an extraordinary illustration of how attempts to legislate people’s lives can backfire and result in unintended consequences.
After that breakfast (I know, that was a lot of information in between but you read my stuff for its entertaining and informative quality, not its brevity) my husband and I headed west from Dublin to visit Galway, my favorite place in Ireland if not the world. It’s about a two hour drive through lovely countryside and myriad unimpressed sheep. The radio occasionally played music (if you consider One Direction “music”) but the Irish are talkers and so much of the stations were discussing the news of the day, which was Savita. When we initially set out the DJs would stumble over her Indian last name, but they got so much practice so quickly it soon rolled off the tongue like marmalade.
The outrage was palpable. The only reason Savita’s death was made public was because her husband went to the press when a proper investigation was not launched. He has expressed concerns about the impartiality of the experts, two of whom are staff doctors at NUI Galway hospital, where Savita was treated and ultimately died. This is a nation that has elected two female presidents, legalized divorce, seen an incredible rise in economic opportunities for women since 1990, and yet a young woman was allowed to die because of an archaic attitude towards women’s health.
The day after the news broke, we were making our way up a treacherous switchback (think Lombard Street in San Fran but with cows instead of houses) on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. The only station that was coming in clearly was a call-in radio show discussing the Halappanavar case. I heard three women (one named Siobhan) describe how placing the life of an unborn fetus above that of it’s mother impacted their lives. One woman was denied painkillers and a diagnostic x-ray as she agonized through the pain of an undiagnosed bowel obstruction, on the pretense that either intervention might harm her fetus. Her bowel eventually burst, her daughter was born premature and died as a result of exposure to bacteria in the womb. Her mother lost part of her intestine, saw her daughter alive for only moments before they were separated, and slipped into a deep depression from which neither she nor her marriage recovered. Siobhan’s fetus had been diagnosed with a “genetic condition incompatible with life” and yet could not abort her pregnancy as long as the unborn child had a heartbeat. She and her husband traveled to Liverpool for the procedure, and returned with the cremated remains of their son as some sort of ghastly souvenir. The last story I heard was a woman in similar circumstances, as her fetus also suffered a significant genetic issue. Rather than travel abroad to abort she carried her child to term, having to explain to friends, family, coworkers and strangers who were overjoyed for her the sorrowful news that her baby would not survive outside her womb.
There were candlelight vigils held in memory of Savita’s life, and rallies so that her death may not be in vain. This horrible experience may be what wrenches Ireland’s abortion policy into something resembling at least the 20th century.
We’ve been back since just before Thanksgiving, living the life that normal people with two kids, jobs, parents, and a weird cat live. Post-election I haven’t had too much to whine about- Barry won, Joe went to my local Costco, New Hampshire has declared it Lady Time- all good stuff.
And then goddamn Rick Perry had to open his mouth about abortion:
“I don’t think any issue better fits the definition of ‘compelling state interest’ than preventing the suffering of our state’s unborn.”
It’s totally okay to laugh. I laughed riotously for a while in an attempt to the keep the anger from inducing a stroke.
I will let you know if and when my blood pressure returns to normal. In the meantime, fuck you Rick Perry. I apologize for the profanity but it is the only appropriate response to this horseshit. The “unborn” are precisely that – unborn. They aren’t people, they don’t have consciousness, and science disagrees about when a fetus might even feel pain. You know what suffering is Rick? Being born into a family already struggling financially. Or being born only to suffer for a short time on earth. Or being a waking, talking reminder to your mother of a brutal attack. Or simply being unwanted. Or being a woman forced to continue a pregnancy that she, for any reason, does not want to.
This isn’t a game, this isn’t harmless rhetoric. This is about quality of life for women and their children, both born and unborn. Savita’s story and the anecdotes I’ve provided are a vivid and nauseating illustration of what happens when government interferes between a woman and her doctor. These aren’t abstract ideas or theoretical scenarios, these are real women faced with awful outcomes because their ability to choose what was best for them was taken away. On the other side of the coin, doctors shouldn’t be afraid to do their jobs responsibly for fear of going to jail.
I note with chagrined irony that the state most reputed for its fierce independent streak – its “don’t mess with us” sloganeering – may be ideologically trading places with a nation long considered backward by its neighbors. As Ireland progresses, will Texas regress? The Lone Star state indeed.