This 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.