A year has passed since the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. Last November saw over two thousand people take to the streets of Dublin to express their sorrow as well as their outrage that in 2012 a young woman could effectively be left to suffer and die in pain rather than be granted a termination of pregnancy that could have potentially saved her life.
Savita’s death sparked widespread anger amongst ordinary people and an outcry for change, putting the issue of women’s reproduction rights into the spotlight and forcing the discussion back to the forefront of Irish society but a year on has anything really has changed?
The summer saw the passing of X case legislation after 21 years, legislation that criminalised women, restricted abortion in cases of suicide and completely ignored the critical issues of a woman’s health, fatal foetal abnormalities, rape or incest. Crucially would the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act have protected Savita, the likely answer is no.
It is poignant that this November, we have seen three Irish women who were forced to travel to Britain to terminate their pregnancies (following diagnoses that their babies would not survive outside the womb) will take their cases to the United Nations. The women who are members of the Terminations For Medical Reasons (TFMR) will argue that being forced to travel abroad to receive treatment was a direct denial of their human rights and was “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. There is no doubt that this treatment of women is all of the above and more, but we should also note the treatment of the 4,000 women that travel to Britain annually to terminate their pregnancies is no more humane.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), has recognised this. The largest provider of abortions in the UK, they have launched a campaign calling for the Irish government to “stop washing its hands” of the women being forced to travel and that these women are being “wilfully ignored by the political establishment”.
BPAS took the unprecedented step of printing an advertisement in The Irish Times that read “we’ll care for your women until your government does”. The recent cut to Maternity Benefit, as well as the attacks on One Parent Families, Child Benefit and Rent Allowance are further evidence of the reality that is “our government” does not in any sense of the word “care“ for women, or children for that matter.
The change we hoped for following Savita’s death has not materialised and the need for a strong campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment and gain full reproduction rights for women in Ireland is as urgent and necessary as it has always been, but the real change women need is the repeal of the whole rotten establishment.