Six Years

norThis day six years ago I went on my very first march ever. I had been shocked to my  very core by what happened to Savita. I remember exactly where I was when I heard that she had died following a miscarriage, having been refused an abortion. I had given birth a few months earlier that year and I hadn’t really understood how the eighth amendment affected me. I had associated it with not being able to get an abortion here in Ireland and people having to travel but it seemed to be a somewhat ephemeral concept, affecting Other People.

I don’t think I slept very well the night the news was reported, via the Irish Times, on Vincent Browne’s late night TV show. The next morning I donated to an abortion rights campaign and cried my eyes out listening to various radio shows discussing what had happened. It shouldn’t be the case that you only start understanding what this type of law means when you think it can affect you, but that’s how I processed the story. I remember RTE having a panel discussion before the Dáil session was to start, and one of the political correspondents wryly commenting that there were three men discussing abortion in 2012 in Ireland.

On this day six years ago we met a friend and marched with our baby from O’Connell Street to Merrion Square. I remember it raining a bit and being a very gloomy afternoon. I remember walking as it got darker and darker, and the candles being lit, and seeing banners with Savita’s face and thinking with horror that this could be anyone, including me, who is pregnant in Ireland right now.

We didn’t stay for all the speeches but that day was a turning point. The next march we went on was with two children and a greater sense of purpose. The abortion rights movement was shifting gear following the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. On yet another march we wore our REPEAL sweatshirts and were joined by more and more people we knew.

I have been pregnant twice since the death of Savita and the eighth amendment was on my mind throughout both pregnancies. I didn’t want to be the next catalyst for social change and I regret that it took a name and a story like hers to push me and others forward. It’s so bloody unfair that, as a prochoice doctor said, if she had been able to have an abortion we wouldn’t even know her name.

Six years is a long time and yet no time at all. Thousands of people have had to travel for health care since that march. Thousands of people changed their minds and decided that yes, they trusted people and while they might make different choices we needed to change the way we treat pregnant people in Ireland. There has been a lot of hurt and I know many felt excluded by the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment. I know the proposed legislation isn’t perfect and that implementation of same is going to be another painful process. I know we could have done more and we should have known what affect this law has had on the generations before us.

In September last year I sat with friends after a march and drank wine and was convinced that we had a lot more convincing to do if we were going to get a yes vote on repealing the eighth amendment. I’m very, very glad I was wrong and that one moment I will always remember is just after 10pm on the 25th May 2018 when I saw the Irish Times exit poll predicting a landslide victory for repeal.

In six years’ time I hope I’m still thinking of Savita and the debt I owe her and the changes that have happened since that march. And I hope her parents know how many people think of her still and worked to change the law so that we won’t need to know the names of other people because they’ve been able to access the care they need rather than dying needlessly.

Thank you, Savita.

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Six Years

On Privilege

The committee on the eighth amendment, dealing with the (very unexpected, I suspect) recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Ireland’s constitutional guarantee to ensure only those who travel can access abortion, rolls on towards its conclusion in the next week or so. Many of its members have clearly gone on a journey during this process, and hearts and minds have been changed. Most have engaged in a thoughtful, open-minded way, with three notable exceptions.

The committee chairperson, Senator Catherine Noone, has done sterling work and seeing her in action is a reminder to me of just how little I would want to be a politician. I ma far too hot headed and reactionary to ever be as patient as she has been. I’m glad to see the work of other female politicians being recognised too.

Senator Noone reads out a paragraph or two at the start of every meeting, as happens in every other Oireachtas committee meeting, reminding all those present, members and witnesses alike, of their privilege. Politicians speaking have absolute privilege when speaking to either House of the Oireachtas or to a committee convened by the Houses.

Privilege is something that I was reminded of again and again when I watched proceedings and followed updates on Twitter. The privilege of seeing parliamentary processes in action. The privilege of having political representatives who want to engage with the process. The privilege of being a woman of means who can travel for medical care abroad. The privilege of hearing all the arguments play out in public and people slowly coming to the realisation of the horror this amendment has perpetuated.

Privilege comes in many forms. The three men who didn’t want to engage with the process, tried to frustrate the process and didn’t ever intend to change their minds are privileged. They are white. They are Catholic, in a country whose parliament starts every day with a Catholic prayer. They are men. They are Irish. They have never had to weigh up their options on seeing a positive pregnancy test.

They have a very special privilege that many of us will never have. When they speak in the committee, they are absolutely privileged. This means they can say what they like. They can manipulate statistics. They can lie. They can make accusations. They did so, again and again and again. I recognise the importance of privilege in a parliamentary debate, and the importance of the checks and balances of our republic. But seeing three privileged men exercise absolute privilege in defence of a law that kills women is difficult to take.

On Privilege

Mourning Has Broken

It is five years since the death of Savita.

It is five years since I woke up to the reality of what the eighth amendment has done.

It is five years since me and my husband went on our very first march together.

Thousands of people have travelled since then for medical care abroad.

I look back at ‘the before’ and I wonder why I was asleep for so long. I was not a socially conscious college student. I had never protested anything in an active way. I was privileged, and while I knew I was privileged I didn’t appreciate or understand that privilege.

I’ve never had a slowly growing fear inside me because my period was late. I’ve never had to get information on medical services from the back of a toilet door. I’ve never had to send a message to a person I don’t know and hope against hope that he or she would turn up with pills that could land me in prison for 14 years.

I could have done more. A lot more. But I didn’t, and I am deeply ashamed of that. I am deeply ashamed of the antichoice views I held, and the fact I held them without really analysing why. I could have marched, and donated time and money, and been more invested in a movement I feel I’ve piggybacked onto.

I repeat ‘Better Late Than Never’ and I try to do more and to do better. I mourn Savita, a woman who died because of our laws. I mourn for the thousands we’ve forced abroad. I mourn for the people who are right now hoping against hope that the pills will turn up because otherwise they are out of options.

My mourning broke five years ago, when it slowly dawned on me what we had done, and putting the pieces back together has done me a world of good. Never again will I be so blind.

Mourning Has Broken

We Wouldn’t Even Know Her Name

This week the Oireachtas committee examining the eighth amendment, which all but bans abortion in Ireland and affects the medical care of every single pregnant person heard from Dr. Peter Boylan. I strongly suspect that if we hadn’t heard of one women who many people wish we hadn’t heard of this committee and debate wouldn’t be taking place.

Savita Halappanava died because of our law, and this inconvenient truth was laid bare this week not once but twice. It was baldly stated by Dr. Boylan and Prof Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumara that the eighth amendment was the reason she died. Dr. Boylan went on to restate, in plain terms, that the eighth amendment killed her in a radio interview the day after what it suits some people to paint as a fractious meeting.

We know the eighth amendment killed her. Medical professionals told us this, yet three of our parliamentary members chose to vote to keep a law which kills in place. They would rather keep this law, knowing I, or you, or anyone else could be the next one it kills. Apparently, they also describe themselves as prolife.

I am prolife. I am prochoice. I am all the shades of grey in between. I don’t want you to die because you’re pregnant. I don’t want you forced to have an abortion because of pressure from a partner or anyone else. I don’t want you to feel you’ve no options but abortion.

I remember the day we first heard the name which, five years on, still brings tears to my eyes. I wish I didn’t know her name. I wish she was enjoying her time with her child and her husband and was as anonymous as she wanted to be.

I can’t help but feeling that knowing her name made her much more difficult to ignore. She wasn’t an X, Y, A, B, C or D. She was Savita, and I think of her almost every day, and I wish I didn’t know her name.

We Wouldn’t Even Know Her Name

FOUR DAYS IN NOVEMBER

In 2004, George W. Bush was elected on my birthday, November 2nd.

In 2012, my husband and I marched in protest for the first time ever on November 17th following the death of Savita Halappanavar.

In 2015, in November we went to view the house that we would buy and in which we made our first home that was just ours together.

Today, it’s another cold November day and I’m thinking of myself and the other November days that have brought me happiness and that made me cry. I wish I could be a little less selfish but today I’m allowing myself to indulge in a lot of ‘what might have been’.

FOUR DAYS IN NOVEMBER

All I Want For Christmas Is Repeal, Actually.

Around this time four years ago I and my husband of several months marched in favour of repeal of the eighth amendment after the death of Savita. I hadn’t been on a protest march before and to my shame I’d rolled my eyes at the various marches I’d seen promoted in college during my time there. Protesting seemed to be for people with way too much time on their hands.

Now I wonder why I was so blasé for so long. Why I didn’t know how dangerous the eighth amendment was. Why I never thought it would be the thing that would get me out of my privileged white middle class comfort zone and onto a march with people of all backgrounds. Why do many people still not entirely appreciate what impact this appalling constitutional provision has on all women and the ripples it spreads throughout the lives of everyone?

Part of me thinks it is because we don’t know how this impacts on us until the carpet is lifted a bit and we’re forced to look at what’s rotten beneath. Like when a grieving husband is on international television explaining that his miscarrying wife was forced to remain in pain because of a collective madness that gripped the religious right back in 1983. Of course Savita could never have known when she got on a plane to come to Ireland to work that something pushed through in the midst of a politically unstable time by a church and its followers of a faith she didn’t practice could cause her death.

I was thinking about when I got married and what I thought about the future. I am fairly confident the eighth amendment wasn’t something I thought would affect me or what would get me on a march. Now I know better. And because I know better, I do better. I wear my REPEAL sweatshirt and badges to Ikea because I want to send out the message that a protest movement isn’t just for students with too much time on their hands. I’m vocal about why I’m in favour of repeal and I don’t sugarcoat what it means for me, as a woman of 35 in Ireland, when the issue comes up in places as varied as my nail salon to work lunches and everywhere in between.

Repeal, is, actually, what I want for Christmas. Because choice should be available at any time. And because no family should have to spend Christmas wondering whether their daughter, mother and partner can be offered dignity in death rather than remaining on life support as a rotting corpse. That happened two years ago. I don’t want to be this year’s letter in the newspaper, actually.

All I Want For Christmas Is Repeal, Actually.