Yesterday the news broke of the death of Savita Halappanava. She died due to complications from a miscarriage. Complications which could have been prevented had she been given proper medical care. But care was denied to Savita for one reason and one reason only. Her unborn child – which could not be saved – had a heartbeat.
It was a horrific death drawn out over several days. Savita developed
septicaemia two days after beginning to miscarry and died days
later. Septicaemia is caused by infection – frequently via open
wounds. In the case of miscarriage the dilated cervix leading directly
to the super-absorbent womb is the direct equivalent of an open wound.
It is not an easy way to die. It starts with fever, swelling and vomiting. If medical care is not provided then the body goes into septic shock involving multiple organ failure. In Savita’s case it took days for her body to get to that stage. Her protracted death would have been haunted by pain and fear. This torture was in the name of preserving life.
Savita’s foetus was at 17 weeks gestation. Had it been born it would
have died even with the most advanced medical care on the planet. Although Savita and her husband Praveen wanted this child they understood it was near death and would not survive in the womb.
Consequently they asked for an abortion to be performed. This was
denied as the foetus still had a heartbeat. Until the foetal heart
stopped beating then Savita was condemned to carry it. Her health, her body, her grief, her pain, her understandable wish to get the
miscarriage over with – none of these things mattered as the foetus
had a heartbeat.
Women are getting used to the idea that we are increasingly being seen
by anti-choice groups in terms of animals for breeding. In the USA
there have actually been proposals that the law should ensure
miscarrying women be literally treated like cattle. Removing a dead
foetus or one which would not survive after 20 weeks was to be
criminalised. Because pigs and cattle cope with it so women should
too. This is not just a case of those whacky Americans with their
crazy ideas. Anti-choice groups here in the UK also aim to have
abortion criminalised in all cases. Once a woman is pregnant she is
there to be bred with no recognition that she has any say in what happens to her body.
But this was more than treating women as farm animals. This was about turning a human into a life support machine for a slowly dying foetus. A living, loving, laughing woman with a family she cared about and who loved her, was casually deleted from humanity. Her death did not occur when her body finally gave up the struggle to survive. That happened days earlier at the moment the men and women who were supposed to care
for her decided that the heart beating in her womb was more important than the heart which sustained her life.
Whether this was done from disdain for a woman who requested an abortion or fear of providing a termination in a political climate where reproductive rights are under near-constant attack is unclear. And in some ways it doesn’t really matter which. The end result is the same. Savita was mechanised. She stopped being a person and was turned into a meat-machine. A machine which provided oxygen and nutrients to the dying child inside her. She no longer mattered because such is the fetishisation of the unborn foetus it became more important than the living woman suffering a horrific death so that a failed pregnancy could be prolonged a few more days.
This is what anti-choice groups like Abort67 and SPUC want to happen
in the UK. All abortions to be prohibited. And this is exactly why
pro-choice groups have doggedly pointed out that restricting access to abortion means women will die. Whether that be from denial of medical care or from injuries and infections developing from backstreet abortions women WILL die. Anti-choice groups scoff at the idea that women are more likely to die if abortion is restricted. They also claim that a foetus has the same rights as a born human beings. That life and rights are conferred upon every foetus because it has cells, because it has a developing nervous system, because it has a heartbeat. Over the last few years the concerted effort to convince lawmakers that a foetus should have rights equal to those of a woman has missed one vital point.
Savita had a heartbeat too.