Sex & Society
Last October, Savita and Praveen Halappanavar were looking forward to starting a family. After marrying, they’d moved from India to Ireland to have their first child.
Unfortunately, when Savita was 17 months pregnant, she began to miscarry and was admitted to University Hospital in Galway. Doctors explained that the neck of the womb had opened, and that they would not be able to save the fetus. Savita and Praveen were heartbroken, but reassured that the ordeal would be over in a matter of hours.
The next morning, the fetus still had a heartbeat, but the doctors’ prognosis remained grim. Savita requested that they terminate the pregnancy. Despite the fact that the fetus had no chance of surviving, doctors refused her request.
“It’s a Catholic country,” they said.
Taken aback, Savita replied, “I am neither Catholic nor Irish.”
The doctors still refused to act.
As the hours passed and her pain became unbearable, Savita’s requests turned into pleads for mercy. Three agonizing days later, the fetus finally died.
But by then, it was too late to save Savita. She died of blood poisoning after another four days of suffering. Praveen was stunned.
“They just left her to die,” he said in an interview with Dailymail.co.uk. “All their focus was on the fetus … how can they put religion before someone’s life?”
Savita’s story will be made all the more tragic if we do not learn from Ireland’s mistake. Irish law dictates that abortions are only legal if the woman’s life is in danger, but Savita’s case shows the precarious nature of this exception-based policy.
Here in the U.S., many people take a so-called “moderate” stance on abortion. They do not want to see an all-out ban, but also feel that there should be restrictions. These people believe abortion should be illegal except in the cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk.
This stance sounds like a compromise on paper, but is completely impractical — even dangerous — in the real world.
If the last election taught us anything, it is that people have vastly different opinions on what constitutes (dare I say “legitimate”) rape.
“Life-threatening” is a similarly ambiguous term; should doctors be given the choice of abortion morality instead of the woman at risk, situations like this can, have and will continue to happen.
Supporters of this “moderate” stance on abortion usually justify restrictions on early-term terminations because of a certain theoretical woman. This woman uses her right to choose as an excuse to ignore birth control. She has promiscuous, unsafe sex, then heads to the local clinic to casually scoop-n-flush the pesky zygote of the week.
This woman does not exist. But even if she did, the decision would still be her’s to make.
So instead of trying to dictate when women are morally “allowed” to have an abortion, why don’t we focus on preventing the need to make such a difficult decision in the first place?
This means doing away with abstinence-only sex education. This means showing your kids the condom-on-the-banana routine. This means encouraging openness and communication, and putting an end to the shame so often associated with female sexuality.
There is a difference between being pro-choice and being pro-abortion. Supporting the right to choose does not obligate you to terminate a pregnancy. It gives you the right to make your own decisions. I have the utmost respect for women who choose to keep their accidental pregnancies, but I also recognize the importance of the freedom to make that choice.
Roe v. Wade turned 40 last week, and despite the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to allow abortions until viability, the debate surrounding access to abortion in this country still rages on. I encourage you to think about how restricted abortion rights can affect you or your loved ones, and to get involved.
MARISA MASSARA is a pro-choice accident. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.