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The death of Savita Halappanavar 

John McAnulty

15 November 2012

"We have heartbeats too!"
An ironic feminist comment on the report that Savita Halappanavar was told that she could not be treated as long as a foetal heartbeat could be detected.

One would think that the news that a dying women was refused treatment on the grounds that “Ireland is Catholic Country” and that the foetus came first would silence the far right bigots who seek to oppress pregnant women. Nothing could be further from the truth. The following day they were demonstrating on the streets of Belfast against a Marie Stopes clinic offering abortion advice.

The decision by the group to open an office in Belfast has led to a number of street protests over the past month and almost universal condemnation by the main political parties, all in the name of protecting the unborn. 

These hysterical fundamentalists have not been silenced and were demonstrating on the streets of Belfast following the death of Savita Halappanavar.  Yet her death has illustrated the reality of unborn rights - that no pregnant women can enter a hospital without the fear that her life and health may be at risk. The current tragedy was made worse by the fact that medical intervention was almost certainly perfectly legal - successive governments have avoided clarifying the law and have left decisions to the bigotry or bravery of the individual doctor.

In the aftermath of the tragedy many women testified to their own experience in Irish hospitals - speaking about acute untreated pain and the terror that they would be left to die.

The fanatic pro-lifers are a small minority with enormous power because political parties bow the knee and because both states support and subsidize church intervention in health and education. This is one aspect of the “carnival of reaction” that Connolly spoke about - the working class divided and the forces of reaction given a free rein.

In the 26 county state we have a history of the mutilation of women in hospitals through the barbaric symphysiotomy operation.  Carried out as an alternative to caesarean, it left many women permanently disabled. Women were locked away in Magdalene laundries for giving birth outside wedlock. Both administrations have failed many times to draw up guidelines to clarify the few legal rights that exist - in the case of the Dublin administration the delay has lasted 20 years

In both administrations there is a horrific history of child abuse involving religious bodies, yet an outcome of the northern settlement was to greatly increase sectarian control of education and sectarian involvement in all aspects of the state. A re-arrangement of education in the 26 counties will leave the church firmly in control with the pick of schools.

It comes as no surprise to learn that the northern attorney-general, John Larkin, believes that abortion is the equivalent of shooting babies and plans all sorts of restrictions on abortion clinics which cannot be legally justified.

Those who support woman's rights in Ireland have been deluding themselves. A number of groups in the North believed parity with Britain would establish rights. Across Ireland many persuaded themselves that European integration would have a civilising effect. Following the child abuse scandals and a sharp fall-off in mass attendance sections of the socialist movement persuaded themselves that church power would simply fade away.

Socialists support the self-organization of women. They support the right to choose. Women alone can decide their fate. They can only do so in the context of a resurgent working class, unwilling to bear the burden of reaction any longer.


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