In this post I warned that the State was going into defence mode in order to protect itself from the fall-out from the death of Savita Halappanavar who, from all accounts, died in agony while the hospital in which we was being treated refused to terminate her pregnancy because this would necessarily result in the death of the foetus. “This is a Catholic country” she and her husband were told. As a result her life was unnecessarily put in danger and she died.
The response of the Government and many others, including the anti-abortion lobby, is to emphasise the uncertainty around events and to defuse the response to them by calling inquiries which, on the face of it, have no credibility.
Consider the following.
Mr Halappanavar heard nothing from the Irish authorities until he made the tragic death of his wife public.
The Government then announces an inquiry by the hospital group where Savita died and one by the employing body, the Heath Services Executive (HSE). In effect both bodies would be investigating themselves.
Such is the arrogance and panic of the organs of the State concerned that they include three doctors in the HSE inquiry from the Galway hospital where Savita died! When I first heard this on RTE news I was struck immediately with complete incredulity. Did I hear that right? Mr Halappanavar has pointed out that there were five members of the medical staff in the room when he was told that she could not have a termination because “This is a Catholic country”.
The Chairman of the inquiry says he needs these medical staff in order to “find out about their standard practice.” In other words those investigating the death would be asking themselves what goes on! This is independent?
As Mr Halappanavar and his legal advice say – the inquiry is private, it is confidential, evidence will not be taken on oath and there will be no cross-examinations.
The Government makes a partial retreat by removing the local medical staff but then puts pressure on Praveen Halappanavar to accept the HSE inquiry. The HSE know he is unhappy but then claim it is only the participation of the three staff that evoked his concern.
It is then pointed out that he didn’t know about the three internal staff at this time and had in fact objected because the HSE was running the inquiry (into itself) and would not be holding hearings with witnesses. So he could not have objected on the grounds claimed by the HSE.
Praveen Halappanavar’s solicitor also claims that the medical notes of Savita given to Praveen have parts missing. They contain records of requests by Savita for tea and toast and a blanket but no written information about her repeated requests for a termination nor of the consultant saying “This is a catholic country”.
A spokeswoman from the HSE is then quoted as saying that she was sure no notes were withheld for “spurious reasons”. Indeed.
Yet we are expected to believe that the State and its inquiries will give Praveen Halappanavar and everyone else the truth.
The courageous stand by Praveen Halappanavar has stripped the State inquiry of any credibility and it cannot now perform the function assigned to it by the State. The huge march in Dublin has demonstrated the anger and determination of many not to accept the death of Savita or accept that it might happen again. So far the anger of many women and men, along with Praveen Halappanavar’s determination, has forced the State to retreat and put serious pressure on the Government. The pressure is particularly strong on the Labour Party, which claims progressive credentials. Fine Gael on the other hand has always been a reactionary tribe. It is so far an open question how far and for how long a more or less spontaneous reaction can threaten this Government and advance women’s rights.
The emphasis on legislating for the X case, while this would be an advance, also runs the real risk of duplicating the uncertainty which already exists but which thereby provides the certain barrier to women’s realisation of their right to control their own bodies. A limited, confused and contradictory constitution and legal view is just as liable to bring forth another limited, confused and contradictory piece of legislation, and would the Government really mind that?
The spontaneous eruption of women and men claiming their rights has an unrivalled quality of energy, hope and passion but the force and determination of organisation and strategy is, as time goes by, much more likely to bring what is required.
Politicians are manoeuvring to avoid the blame or claim the leadership of the demand for women’s rights. The not-so-united United Left Alliance has put two separate amendments to the Sinn Fein motion in the Dail calling for legislating for the X case, putting a large question mark over its ability to perform this latter role.
This role is not to seek immediately to lead this spontaneous movement but to help it find organisation, a strategy, its own leadership and to fight for a women’s right to choose as the only certain route to establishing the rights of women.
The Left, with its history of political sectarianism, would have to change its instrumental approach to campaigns if this were to happen and they become able to play this role. There are reasons why it might not do so but there are many, many more why it should.