Thousands demonstrate for abortion rights in Ireland

DSC_0185In August it was revealed that a young rape victim had been denied the abortion she requested while apparently being led to believe that this was possible.  It came after the horrific death two years ago of Savita Halappanaver who died when she was refused an abortion.

Yesterday thousands demonstrated in Dublin to demand for abortion rights and repeal of 8th amendment to the Irish State’s constitution which enshrines this denial of women’s rights.

The march was organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign and was mainly composed of young people, overwhelmingly young women, who represent a new generation that is not prepared to quietly accept the denial of the most fundamental of rights to control their own bodies.  They are aware that increasingly they speak for the majority of people in the State and that the barrier to the vindication of their rights is the State itself, behind which stands the reactionary forces long associated with the Catholic Church.

The leaflet given out at the demonstration by its organisers pointed out that the Irish state has the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.  That if a woman seeks a termination it can only be on the grounds that there is an imminent and substantial risk to the woman’s life, including suicide.  Rape is not legal grounds for an abortion, nor is the fact that a foetus will not survive outside the womb and the restrictive grounds that do exist require an assessment by up to 6 doctors.

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Many of the demonstrators pulled wheelie luggage with tags for LHR and LPL, recording the fact that 159,000 women have travelled to Britain for an abortion since 1980. The latest legislation by the State is not a solution to this infamous ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’ – the temporary export of women to Britain.

The demonstration signposted the need for a new campaign to repeal the 8th amendment on the 30th anniversary of its passing, with speakers noting that most of those attending would have had no opportunity to participate in this decision.

The repeated exposure of the criminal abuse by the Catholic Church has robbed this body of much influence but it continues to retain its power though its alliance with the state and many demonstrators demanded their separation.

The campaign and others have correctly decided that the demand for repeal of this part of the State’s constitution is not a policy of reliance and dependency on the state but an effort to remove shackles on their rights and that direct, first-hand action has and will continue to be taken to provide women with real choice during unwanted pregnancies.

 

The Irish State’s pathological oppression of women

1408603830298.jpg-620x349In Britain there is no higher loyalty than to Queen and country.  In Ireland loyalty is to the State via the Constitution.

From high oaths to common usage it is the Queen, and by virtue of this the nation that are her subjects, that is held up as the object of allegiance.  Proclaiming loyalty to the State sounds a discordant note.

Although in Ireland there is no less promotion of nationalism this does not find expression so much in calls for allegiance to the country, certainly not to the President, perhaps more so to the nation – although that now also has subversive connotations of actually including the whole nation i.e. all 32 counties – rather it is disloyalty to the state that would see you harangued in the Dail by the establishment parties.

Fine Gael sees itself as the unique guardians of the probity and righteousness of the state, having been the party of its creation, even in its declaration as a Republic, with what it considers unequalled adherence to its laws and devout devotion to its legitimacy.  Fianna Fail has seen itself as so embodying the identity of the nation that it has in the past seen itself as the body and soul of the state so that its own laws are also the laws of the state.  That means it doesn’t matter so much if you break them.

The Labour Party can be seen as the most inoffensive party in and with respect to the State.  Republicans, who once swore to a ‘second round’ of war against the Free State now bend over backwards to swear to the legitimacy of the state’s institutions, especially its police and security service An Garda Síochána.

The left wants the state to nationalise the banks and the economy, tax the rich, spend more money, take on more powers to put people in jail – that is those nasty bankers – and pass all sorts of laws against discrimination and for equality etc.  It wants a much bigger state that is a little bit more democratic.

But this week we have witnessed another grotesque illustration of the repugnant character of the real Irish State, the one beyond the idealised phrases uttered without reflection.  In particular it is the constitution which has once again been the grounds on which the denial of women’s’ rights has been based.  This denial is a product of the State’s view of the role of women in society spelt out in Article 41 of this constitution, which states that:

“The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.  The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.  In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.  The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

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It is the State and its constitution’s treatment of women that has given display to its most cruel, repulsive and hypocritical features.  Its reactionary historical origins have imprinted on it a character that all pretensions to modern liberalism have proved unable to hide.  While capitalist development has undermined the holy foundations of the confessional state and its Catholic ethos it has done so in a manner different from that which a strong, vibrant, secular and socialist workers movement would have achieved and with different results.

The Catholic Church has lost mass-goers and much credibility but it still has patronage over the vast majority of primary schools, is still allowed to discriminate in appointing teachers and still imposes its dogmas in much medical practice.  The state it blessed, and which in turn blessed it with collusion in its violent abuse of thousands of women and children, and which paid for the cost of claims arising from this abuse, is now the primary mechanism that upholds its dogmas.

The decline in the ideological hold of the church has not been matched by its political decline and the political power it retains now owes more and more to the power of the state.  It is the State which stands more and more exposed, or should at least, as the rock upon which the oppression of women in Irish society rests, an oppression previously sanctified primarily by the Church and its institutions.

The state’s treatment of a teenage pregnant immigrant illustrates what this seemingly clichéd piece of jargon actually means.  The young woman at the centre of this latest tragedy was interviewed by Kitty Holland in ‘The Irish Times’.

The interview revealed that the young woman was refused an abortion after she had said that she had been raped, although she did not know she was pregnant until arriving in Ireland.  She was initially told she could have an abortion at 24 weeks but this subsequently changed and she delivered a baby by caesarean section.

“Yes, I would have preferred an abortion,” she said. “I was told the only way to end the pregnancy at this point would be a Caesarean . . . They said wherever you go in the world, the United States, anywhere, at this point it has to be a Caesarean.”

“I was raped in my country. I did not know I was pregnant until I came here.”  She was referred to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), where her pregnancy was confirmed.  “It was very difficult for me. I cried. I said I am not capable of going through with this. I said I could die because of this… They said to me abortion was not legal here, but people like me are sent to England for abortions . . . I asked to go and they said they would have to arrange the documents and that could take six weeks.”

“They said it is okay because I was eight weeks and four days. After that day I hoped they were going to help me. I was shown documents that were filled in, and I understood that the process was under way.”  Over the following weeks, she says, she had a number of meetings at the IFPA and although the process seemed to be in train she was told some weeks later that the estimated cost of travelling to England, having the abortion and possible overnight accommodation could be over €1,500.  An individual in the IFPA, she says, told her the State would not fund the costs.  Remember this is the State that borrowed €64,000,000,000 to bail out the banks.

“In my culture it is a great shame to be pregnant if not married . . . I didn’t even know what [the medic] was saying to me.  “I said to her, ‘I could die because of this pregnancy. I am   prepared to kill myself’.”  At this stage she was 16 weeks’ pregnant.  “I said we’re getting too far, and she said, no, in England they carry out abortions up to 28 weeks . . . She said ‘that is not the problem. The problem is the money’.  She told the journalist that by then she had decided to kill herself.

She then made contact with a family friend who advised her to go to a GP and tell them that she was suicidal because of the pregnancy.  The GP referred her to a hospital, where she saw a psychiatrist.

“She had read the report and she said to me, ‘No, you are already too far pregnant’. I cried. She asked me lots of questions and I answered them, telling her everything I felt. Around 11pm I saw another psychiatrist. I told her the same thing. I spent the night there.

‘“The next day, around 10am, I was taken in a taxi to another hospital . . . When we got there I thought they were going to help me. They brought me to a room where they did a scan and the pregnancy was 24 weeks and one day . . .They said they could not do an abortion. I said, ‘You can leave me now to die. I don’t want to live in this world anymore’.”  She said that from this point a nurse was constantly at her bedside and was always accompanied to the bathroom.’

“They knew I was going to do myself ill. From Friday I did not eat. I did not drink. For four days I didn’t drink, I didn’t eat . . . I thought that way I could die…On Monday night two doctors came, a psychiatrist and a gynaecologist, and said, ‘We are going to carry out the abortion next Monday but you have to be strong. You have to eat. You have to drink.’ I started to eat and I drank.”  A few days later she was told that the plan had changed.

“They said the pregnancy was too far. It was going to have to be a Caesarean section . . . They said wherever you go in the world, the United States, anywhere, at this point it has to be a Caesarean.

“I didn’t know if I could continue to suffer.”  She says that a number of days later, two medics told her the authorities had been made aware of her situation and she would need a solicitor. “That really shocked me.”

A solicitor was appointed by the Health Services Executive.   “The solicitor said he was familiar with my case but it would be better to explain it myself. . . I didn’t eat again those days . . . On Monday evening a psychiatrist came again and said if I eat and drink they will try to do the operation on Tuesday.  I would have preferred an abortion.”

Was she told she had a choice between an abortion and a Caesarean?  “No. I was told the only route that remained was a Caesarean.”  She met the obstetrician she understood would perform the section on Tuesday, and this doctor told her about the operation.  “She said to me, there is a law. This law says abortion is prohibited but people like me can be helped. Abortion is allowed if the pregnant person wants to kill herself because of the pregnancy. “

“She promised they would do it [the Caesarean] on Wednesday. She showed me a document with three signatures, two psychiatrists and one gynaecologist.  She started talking about the negative effects [of a Caesarean section]. I didn’t listen. I didn’t have a choice. All the suffering I had gone through. Then on Wednesday at about 3pm they did it.

“When I woke up I felt sick. The following Wednesday I was let out.”  “I didn’t want to even know that I had a child. Still, even today, I feel really bad.”  She has seen a psychiatrist twice since she left hospital, provided for her by the HSE.

Asked if she has any friend to talk to about her situation, the young woman says she has not.  “No, I didn’t want people to know . . . For me this was shameful. In our culture if a girl gives birth to a child before marriage everything is finished. No one can respect you. As well as that, for me, with the rape, it was difficult.”

“Sometimes, when I feel the pain . . . I feel I have been left by everybody . . . I just wanted justice to be done. For me this is injustice.”

A spokeswoman for the HSE, when asked about the allegation that the woman was not offered a right to appeal the decision to carry out a Caesarean section, said that the woman’s request for a termination on the basis of suicidality was acceded to.  “It is important to note that a pregnancy can be terminated by way of delivery through Caesarean section, as it was in this instance.”  As they were acceding to her request for a termination of the pregnancy on those grounds, there is no requirement for a review.

It’s hard to know in what proportion this response of the HSE is composed of cynicism, mendacity and deceit; or how much to that infamous principle of conduct by the Irish State of ‘an Irish solution to an Irish problem.”  As the columnist Fintan O’Toole pointed out:

“At least 160,000 Irish women have had abortions abroad since 1980. That’s close to one in 10 of the female population aged between 14 and 64. These women are our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, neighbours. Yet abortion is part of official discourse only when a new atrocity breaks the surface of a deep silence.”

An inquiry will be undertaken by the HSE which will, it is reported, establishe “all of the facts surrounding the care given to the woman” and will “end any inaccurate commentary surrounding this matter currently”, except that it “would not involve any review of the decision taken by the three clinicians who were empanelled to decide if an abortion was warranted under the 2013 Act .”

Meanwhile the Government through the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has said that the constitutional ban on abortion should be revisited by a future government, but that the legislation introduced by the Coalition was “the best possible” under the circumstances.  A phrase that hardly comes anywhere near describing truthfully the circumstances of the case.

The announcement of an inquiry will attempt the same role as the inquiry called after the death of Savita Halappanavar.  Already we have been told that it may not be published in full and of course it is to be conducted by the same organisation, the HSE, which is squarely in the dock as the guilty party.

The Government has already ruled out doing anything so the exercise is entirely cynical and entirely in keeping with the history of a state that took 21 years to legislate for the X case.  It’s remarkable that at this time the Irish state could move at such speed in an attempt to prevent another young 14 year old rape victim threatening suicide from having an abortion in Britain yet took 21 years to legislate for the limited concession to women that resulted from the case.

The state has no role in limiting the participation of anyone in society or determining their role.  It certainly cannot be allowed to control the rights of women to control their own fertility or to endanger their health or their life because of doctrines dreamed up by a medieval institution that believes its leader is God’s deputy on earth.

Women must have the right to choose whether they will bear children without conditions being imposed.  The Constitutional impediments to this must be repealed and the fight to make their free choice a real one, which cannot be settled by any constitutional provision, must be taken up.

A way forward cannot be left to the existing State but requires a movement that not only campaigns for the freedoms and resources to make women’s self-determination a reality but starts itself to put in place the services that women need.

New Abortion Bill – should it be supported?

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The death last October of a young woman, Savita Halappanavar, refused an abortion in a Galway hospital that may well have saved her life because, she was told by staff, “this is a Catholic country”, was shocking and led to an eruption of anger across the State.  It made headlines across the world.  It forced the establishment parties to get off the fence they had been sitting on for over two decades and promise they would legislate for some sort of abortion rights.

The problem they said was one of legal clarity and certainty for the medical profession.  At the time I argued that this was not the issue.  The issue was the all too certain denial of women’s rights to control their own bodies and their own fertility to the degree that they could be left to die rather than be allowed to abort a foetus that could not survive.

Now the nature of the proposed legislation has been made public.  It is clear from this that it is designed to protect the state and not women.

Enda Kenny spelled it out – the legislation “will not create any new rights.”  Although arising from the Halappanavar case it will not prevent such a tragedy happening again.  That’s about as damning a judgement as could be made given the circumstances.

The legislation will do nothing to facilitate abortion rights in cases of rape, incest or cases of foetal abnormality.  The health of women is of no consideration.  Abortion remains a crime and the 1861 British penalty of penal servitude for life has been replaced by the 21st century Irish penalty of 14 years imprisonment.  Women may go to jail because it would be ‘inequitable to penalise the doctor but not the woman undergoing the procedure’.  This will apply to pregnant women.  The denial of rights is indivisible.  Thousands of Irish women will be regarded as criminals who have escaped punishment only because their crime was perpetrated elsewhere.  These women will continue to travel to Britain rather than face the bureaucratic obstacle course which seems designed to ensure their journeys continue.

These rules require two doctors to approve an abortion where there is a “real and substantial risk to the woman’s life” and one if the termination is considered “immediately necessary.”   In the case of a woman at risk from suicide three doctors are required to approve (unanimously), two psychiatrists and a gynaecologist or obstetrician.  If the woman is refused a termination she has the right to appeal in writing to two doctors if it involves physical risk and another three doctors if she is in danger of suicide.  Again these are to be two psychiatrists and a gynaecologist or obstetrician.

The expertise of the medical profession is to be deployed in order to adjudicate on behalf of the State on women’s rights.  That this expertise is not the real function but rather a justification of the fetters determined by the State is abundantly clear from the fact that a gynaecologist or obstetrician must be on both the original and review panel and the verdict must be unanimous.  What expertise does a gynaecologist or obstetrician have in determining a woman’s state of mind?  In what way is a medical emergency requiring only one doctor in any essential way different from one determined by the threat of suicide?

The legislation has been enacted to deal with the State’s non-compliance with the European Court of Human Rights, which had concluded unanimously that it had breached a woman’s right under Article 8 “by reason of the absence of any implementing legislative or regulatory regime providing an accessible and effective procedure by which she could have established whether she qualified for a lawful abortion in Ireland.”  Now most women will know that they don’t and will face a struggle to affirm their rights if they think they do.

The State hopes that it will have neutralised the movement that wanted to affirm women’s rights and thereby bolster all the reactionary sections of society that seek to maintain the system of repression on which the Irish State was founded.

It would therefore be a mistake to welcome this legislation, this enactment that “will not create any new rights.”  We should not get into a fight over whether only two doctors are required in cases of possible suicide rather than three.  As has been pointed out by Doctors for Choice Ireland here , women will in all probability visit their GP first before going through the bureaucratic process meaning they could see two, three or four doctors initially.

Doctors for Choice Ireland put what we need to demand very succinctly “We believe that the safest way to protect all women in Irish society is to decriminalise abortion, leaving medical matters outside the criminal law. . . Women should have the choice to access safe abortion services with fully informed consent. To achieve this we will need to repeal the 8th amendment.”

Savita Halappanavar and the demand for the Truth

Minister for Health James Reilly

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.

 

 

 

What is certain about the death of Savita Halappanavar

The husband of Savita Halappanavar has been very clear.  His wife was refused a termination of her pregnancy although the foetus would not survive, because the foetal heartbeat was still present, and Savita and he were told, “this is a Catholic country”.  He later said that he was convinced she would have lived had this medical intervention taken place.  All this appears pretty clear and it adds up to a shattering condemnation of the Irish State and the reactionary forces within Irish society which have denied the rights of women to control their own bodies.  What has happened is indefensible not least because the Indian nationality of Savita Halappanavar means it has become an international story.

The Irish State has gone into defence mode and sought to do so through diversion.  First it is hoped the issue can be immediately defused and closed down at least temporarily by the call for an enquiry that, it is stated, will take three months.  We are expected to believe that the truth will emerge from a government that couldn’t even give clear answers why two health centres are to be built in the Minister of Health’s own constituency.

For those opposed to women’s rights there is nothing wrong and women can rest assured that whatever medical treatment is required for their good will be provided, a claim that flies in the face of all that we know about what has happened.

More dangerously the issue has been diverted by the repeated calls from politicians and commentators that what we need is ‘legal certainty’ as if this is the problem.

This is not the problem.

Thousands of Irish women travel from Ireland to receive abortions because they are all too certain that they cannot control their own bodies within Ireland.  It is all too clear that there are no abortion facilities in Ireland and it is all too clear and certain that all the political parties don’t want to change this.  They have had twenty years to bring the slightest doubt to such a judgement and they haven’t even tried.

Secondly we are meant to believe that certainty can be delivered from this piece of the constitution: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”  Given the history of this question it is as likely that legislation would result in the same certain denial of women’s rights as currently exists.

Thirdly, and most importantly, lack of certainty isn’t at all the issue.  It is the right of women to control their own bodies, to make their own decisions.  We can be certain that had Savita Halappanavar’s wishes been acceded to there would be no question of medical practice being based on theology.  We can at the very least say that her chances of being alive today would be higher.  Isn’t that what hospitals and health services are supposed to be for?

It is not a question therefore of the State being certain about the restrictions that they impose on women’s rights.  It is not an answer that the medical profession be clear when they must let a women die in agony because the law is certain when they can and cannot intervene.  It is not enough that women travel abroad because it has been made crystal clear that they cannot vindicate their rights to control their own fertility within the Irish State.

What has happened to Savita Halappanavar has been portrayed as an extreme case and in an obvious way it is.  But by its very extremity it has demonstrated that women’s rights to control their bodies will be prevented on anti-abortion grounds, even when it leads to a woman’s death.

The staff at the hospital must be asked to reveal the full decision making process that went on.

What must be made clear to the Government is that the rights of women will not be dismissed and we will not be diverted into accepting a new certainty as to the restrictions placed on them.  Legislating for the X case would of course be welcome but it is not enough.

The demonstration outside the Dail last night and actions elsewhere were exactly what was immediately required.  This must be followed up by demonstrations and a campaign that demands the full rights of women to control their own fertility including safe and legal abortions with all the necessary facilities to provide them.

Savita Halappanavar told “This is a Catholic country.”

Savita Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, arrived with back pain at University Hospital Galway on October 21st but was found to be miscarrying.  Doctors told her the baby wouldn’t survive but it would all be over in a few hours.  Her agony lasted until 28th.

Her husband says she asked several times that the pregnancy be terminated but that this was refused because the foetal heartbeat was still present. Her husband reported that the doctor “told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.”  There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.

He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.

This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.  She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped.  When the dead foetus was removed Savita was taken to the high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit, where she died of septicaemia on the 28th.

“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.

“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.  “The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”

When the foetal heart had stopped Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”  At 11 pm Ms Halappanavar’s husband got a call from the hospital. “They said they were shifting her to intensive care. Her heart and pulse were low, her temperature was high. She was sedated and critical but stable. She stayed stable on Friday but by 7pm on Saturday they said her heart, kidneys and liver weren’t functioning. She was critically ill. That night, we lost her.”

On the face of it we have a desperate tragedy that could possibly have been avoided. That it has not is because of the continuing power of a state colluding with an institution, the Catholic Church, which, despite being increasingly discredited, continues to wield enormous power.  This includes its patronage of hospitals and influence on medical practices.

The Church has been found guilty of systematic and widespread child abuse in report after report.  It has defended itself first by cover up and denial, relying on the state, including the Garda to protect it; and finally by expressions of sorrow and regret while making the minimal of changes.  The Church has still been allowed to continue to ‘self-regulate’ while it being obvious that the resources provided to protect children are woefully inadequate. The Church has shown not the slightest sign of willingness to pay for its crimes.

Above all it has been the state which has been the last line of defence for the institutional power of the Church and this is so despite the much publicised criticism by politicians, including Enda Kenny in the Dail, and the weak measures to reduce Church patronage of schools.  Such criticism is designed to save the Church from itself and reduced patronage is acceptable to it, if it is limited, because the Church has already stated it is currently over-extended.

For years the Irish State has been under an obligation to legislate for abortion where the life of the mother is threatened and all the political parties have avoided discharging this obligation.  How bitterly ironic then that the Expert Group set up to report on this issue, in reality a device to kick the question further down an infinite road, reported its findings to the Government last night.  We can be absolutely certain that this procrastination will continue now that the report has been completed.

The expressions of sorrow from the politicians in the Dail this afternoon are nauseating and hypocritical.  If the facts are as they are now understood then their defence of Catholic Church teaching has led to a result that has been both foreseeable and foreseen.  Two internal inquiries into what has happened are to take place, one by the hospital itself and one by the Health Services Executive.  Those who work in the hospital should, through their trade unions if that is easiest, report what has happened or at the very least prevent any cover up.  Much better would be a workers enquiry made up of health service staff and users of the services. Neither of the internal inquiries can be trusted to reveal the truth of this case.

Most fundamentally this is because, while this is a personal tragedy, it is the result of a political system that still defends the reactionary social teaching of an increasingly disgraced institution.  It does so because of the independent power of that institution, the historical ties that bind and the need for the Irish State to hold to whatever forms of legitimacy it can, no matter how tattered.  The Church and its teachings remain a powerful reactionary force in Irish society notwithstanding the scandals.  This is an earthly power with deep roots.

Some on the Left appear to believe that confronting the power of the Catholic Church in Ireland is a battle won when in fact it has been battles fought by women and the self-inflicted wounds of the abuse scandals that have weakened its authority.  It is now well past the time that the Left demanded the rights of women to control their own bodies, with the right to choose whether they have an abortion or not.  This requires the complete separation of the Church from the State and the expulsion of the Church from education and health services.  Safe and legal abortion services must be provided by the health services free at the point of delivery.

We should expect to see the deputies of the United Left Alliance excoriate the political leaders who have allowed this to happen.  It is one of the few truly useful functions a TD in the Dail can perform.  This is not a tragedy above or beyond politics but is something a rotten political system and its defenders made inevitable.