Two years ago today a young woman died in University College Hospital Galway. Her name was Savita Halappanavar. The circumstances that led to her death are well known but still horrendous to read.(here and here)
I will never forget the morning of Nov 14 2012 when the story broke. I saw something about it on Twitter and turned on the radio to hear more. I vividly remember standing in my kitchen crying as I listened to the report of a young woman who had died because – as it was being reported – doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy even though her baby had died in utero. I remember getting my daughter ready for preschool that day and sending her off on the bus then spending the next hour online trying to grasp what had happened.
Memories of when I suffered a missed miscarriage myself in 2006 and had to have a D&C to ensure I did not develop an infection flooded my mind. I was treated well throughout and with gentleness and sensitivity. And yet it seemed that six years later another woman had died because her case was not handled the same way. How could this have happened?
A few days later I joined thousands of people to march in Dublin and hold a vigil to remember Savita and to show solidarity with her husband Praveen. People were angry, upset and vowed Never Again. It was an intensely moving experience.
As I travelled home from Dublin I was thinking of my time studying Irish Studies at Liverpool University in the 1990’s. It was the time of the X case which we followed with a sense of something approaching disbelief. In Liverpool we – and many many others – signed petitions, sent messages of support, held rallies and hoped this would never happen again. Obviously the circumstances of the X case and Savita’s case are different. But what remained the same was that women were being denied autonomy over their own bodies. Coming home I was shocked to think that 20 years after we had marched and protested over the X case, we were doing essentially the same again. And I vowed that night never to forget Savita. Or Miss X. Or Ann Lovett. Or the other numerous nameless women who had died as a result of my country’s policies on termination of pregnancy or as a result of societal attitudes towards pregnancy outside of marriage.