It Happened To Savita Halappanavar.

Vigil outside Belfast City Hall. November 13th, 2012

Savita Halappanavar would be alive today if her seventeen-week pregnancy had been terminated. On 21st October, she was admitted to Galway’s University Hospital suffering severe back pain, and over the coming days it became clear that her pregnancy was miscarrying. Amniotic fluid was leaking rapidly, and her cervix was fully dilated – leaving her vulnerable to deadly infection. Ms Halappanavar was left for days, in pain, given woefully inadequate treatment (antibiotics) as her health deteriorated rapidly. It was plain as day that she urgently needed to have her pregnancy terminated properly in order to save her life – but Doctors couldn’t act. She asked for a termination; she was told: “Ireland is a Catholic country”. Ms Halappanavar stated the case that she was neither Irish, nor a Catholic, but to no avail. The Doctors hands were tied, and tragically, Savita Halappanavar succumbed to infection and died on 28th October, 2012. She was just 31 years old.

On the surface, this reads like an anecdote of Medieval child-birth. I have certainly read articles likening it to this era. But this is worse. Our Medieval ancestors had no hope of saving their loved ones from the dangers of childbirth, they simply didn’t have the medical know-how. But we do, and Ms Halappanavar was left to die regardless. How could this have happened in the 21st century? Ireland is not a third world country, it isn’t being run by despot dictators, and on the surface, it is not a theocracy, under the thumb of religious zealots. The answer is more convoluted than that. It is the Irish Government, and the confusing state of the country’s abortion laws.

Twenty years ago, following the case of “X” (a teenage girl who’d become pregnant after suffering rape), the Dail were given a mandate by the people of this country to carry out terminations in limited circumstances (rape cases, and cases where the mother’s life was clearly in danger). However, since that case, successive Irish Governments have dodged enforcement and shirked the abortion issue altogether. The European Court of Human Rights have condemned the Irish Government for this very reason, precisely for their lack of clarity and refusal to act. Still, the Irish Government did nothing.

Now, here we are in 2012, and a woman has died. A death that was as predictable as it was preventable. But, it was not the Doctors who killed her, it was the Irish state with their hopelessly ambiguous abortion laws. If they had only acted to clarify the laws surrounding terminations then the Doctors at Galway University Hospital would have known where they stood in the law, and Ms Halappanavar would be alive today. It really is that simple. Instead, they (the Governments) have allowed themselves to be dominated by Catholic zealots who’d rather forsake a living, breathing human being for the sake of a ball of cells. What makes an even bigger mockery of the “pro-life” argument is that Ms Halappanavar’s pregnancy had ended, and there wasn’t even a viable foetus to save. Two deaths occurred that day, and I doubt the “pro-lifers” care a fig for either of them – they will carry on their propaganda war regardless.

However, no more are the religious zealots getting it all their own way. In the aftermath of Ms Halappanavar’s death, there has been a wave of protests and vigils across Ireland, and in Britain. Once again, the people of Ireland are demanding clarity and reform on the emotive issue of abortion before another mother’s life is taken. Surely now, the Irish Government must act? They cannot dodge this issue, they cannot ignore the voices of women crying out for fair treatment and control of their own bodies? Our ovaries are not the property of the State, and it’s time the Government stood up to the fanatics who seek to control other people’s lives. My answer to these “pro-lifers” is a simple one: if you dislike abortion, don’t have one.

I personally attended a vigil to remember Savita Halappanavar outside Belfast City Hall. I was one of a large crowd, holing placards bearing a simple picture of the deceased and a simple lit candle. There was no sloganeering, no shouting or unrest. There were numerous men as well as women; and a beautiful lamenting mantra of “Om Shanti Om” sung as a mark of respect for Ms Halappanavar’s Hindu background. But despite the atmosphere of solemn remembrance, there was a strong undercurrent of anger. Anger that a woman could die like this in Ireland. Anger that women here are not afforded the same respect and dignity that women in England are. Anger that women’s bodies are still the property of the state. The message sent out to both the Dail and the Stormont Assembley here in Northern Ireland was clear: we need reforms and we need them now. If the status quo continues, there will be more deaths, more women’s lives laid to waste because of religious bigotry.

To conclude this article, I would like to quote Ms Halappanavar’s mother who spoke about the tragic death of her daughter to Indian media: “In an attempt to save a four month old foetus, they killed my 30 year old daughter. How is that fair, you tell me?” This, I am afraid, will still be lost on the pro-life zealots who hold this country’s women to ransom.

Savita Halappanavar: killed after being denied a life saving abortion, 28th October 2012.

Inspirational Women: I am Not a Liar!

Since I decided to do a series on inspirational women of the past who managed to either break their shackles or do something for women’s rights or were simply just kickass, a friend of mine offered to do a post for the blog of her own experiences. After reading it and knowing what she has achieved, I shall let her post stand as the first in my series of inspiring women.

Over to Her …


Female Genital Mutilation 3/3: Current statistics

To round up this series, just posting current information on this practice.


This entire process would obviously be a traumatic experience for any girl. For some, it leads to life-long phobia whereas it produces erotophobia (fear of sex) in others leading to a strong sexual block that might take years of therapy to overcome. Since most of these circumcisions are done informally by unqualified women, they lead to infections that could lead to serious diseases. Chronic pain, burning during urinations, bleeding and kidney problems occur quite frequently among the victims of this practise. In some cases, even diseases such as AIDS, syphilis and hepatitis are passed on to the girl children. Menstruation is sometimes delayed due to the closing of the vaginal passage and in many cases, the blood collects in the womb if the vagina is not reopened.


Female Genital Mutilation 2/3: Reasons & Origins of FGM

A deeper look into the reasons and origins for the perpetration of this horrific practice shows that people in different countries practice FGM for very different purposes. The history of female genital mutilation is not very well recorded, but there are many different speculations about it. Many of them do not make much sense; some of them seem relevant. Here is a list of the different theories that are thrown about:


Female Genital Mutilation 1/3: Types of FGM/C

Oh! What a shame,
That you who drum to our ears
To revere the dignity between our legs,
Become the ones that destroy it.

                                           – Chinwe Azubuike


Vestal Virgins – 3/3: Ups & Downs

Though they were above other women in many ways, and even above men in some, Vestal Virgins had some major restrictions. All the fawning and worshipping cannot have been easy on them either. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of being a Vestal Virgin.


Vestal Virgins – Part 2/3: Origin, Festivals & Downfall


Daughter of Saturn, venerable dame,
Who dwell’st amid great fire’s eternal flame,
In thee the gods have fix’d their dwelling place,
Strong stable basis of the mortal race.

Vesta is the Latin form of the word Hestia, who was the daughter of Chronos (Time) and Rhea (Earth) in Roman legend. It is believed that the cult originated in B.C. 715 at the time of the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius. However, this is just the recorded history. The history of Vestal virgins goes back much further, possibly to the times of Romulus.


Vestal Virgins – Part 1/3: A Roman Cult

Women in general had fewer rights in the past, but let us look at a group of women, who while still struggling with high expectations and major restrictions, still had more rights than the average female population of the time. Vestal virgins in the Roman times were more than just virgins; they were the light and spirit of Rome, and were believed to hold the prosperity of the Empire in their hands. That is power for you!


Magdalene Laundries – Part 2/2: Institutionalised Slavery

When the Sisters of Charity in Dublin sold off their property to the Government in 1993, the news burst forth that there were 133 unmarked graves in the grounds. It was discovered that these were previous inmates of the convent laundry. While some bodies were claimed by family members after this became public, many of them remained unnamed, unclaimed. One of the reasons they could not have been traced was that once they entered the asylum, their entire identity before entry was effaced, and their names changed. These women did not even have any death certificates, which went against the law of the time. The convent seemed to have got away with blatantly flouting the law in this case, as indeed, it had by forcibly detaining women to work without pay, and pocketing the income from their labour.


Magdalene Laundries – Part 1/2: An Erotophobic Society

Magdalene Asylums or Magdalene Laundries were religious organisations set up ostensibly for the reformation and shelter of “fallen” women. The idea was to model the asylums in the name of Mary Magdalene, who, according to the Catholic Church, was a prostitute and a sinner. Her penitence and repentance earned her a place among the saints of the Catholic Church, in the process leading to the degradation, imprisonment and forced penance of innocent women several hundred years later.


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