Do you love us, Ireland? Do you love women?
The anti-choice side have built their settlement on the moral high ground. That high ground is a loveless place, devoid of respect for women. It’s the site of the Magdalene laundries and the wards of our symphisiotomy abattoirs. To be “pro-life” is to want to be in control of women. There, love is lost
Praveen and Savita Halappanavar
“It’s not the role of the State to pass judgment on who a person falls in love with, or who they they want to spend their life with.”
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore’s response to the overwhelming vote of the recent Constitutional Convention in favour of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples didn’t involve the stand-up timing of New Zealand MP and now internet sensation Maurice Williamson. Mr Gilmore sucked up any urge to burst into song, as the public gallery and a number of MPs in the New Zealand parliament did three days later when it voted to legislate for same-sex marriage. He just spoke some simple facts; some essential truths about love and choice.
Like the proud modern democracy we have proven we can be, Ireland is truly in step with the rest of the world, where 14 countries (including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South African and Sweden, and parts of Brazil, Mexico and the US) now allow same-sex couples to marry. Same-sex marriage is being debated in Britain and Uruguay, and France and New Zealand will now legislate.
The result of the vote at the Constitutional Convention, where 79 per cent of members voted to recommend that the Irish Constitution be amended to allow for same-sex marriage, was ultimately about love. “Just Love” - to steal Marriage Equality’s inspirational campaign slogan. The convention, with its everyman and everywoman cross-section of Irish society, produced the happiest expression of love we have all shared for a while in these times of inequity and austerity.
Side by side with this modern, evolutionary and egalitarian move to embrace love in its many guises, we have witnessed another powerful expression of love: the love of Praveen Halappanavar for his clever, talented, inspirational wife, Savita.
Praveen’s love for Savita, in its sheer magnitude and in its sheer beauty, has been awe-inspiring. The Halappanavars’ love for each other has thrown light on Irish ways and Irish laws. It is to our shame that it has taken this couple, from outside this place, to unlock the Pandora’s Box of malign anti-woman sentiment that runs through our psyche and through our Constitution. Savita paid the ultimate price. It is one that no woman in this State must pay again.
That Pandora’s Box, where many were incarcerated for a lifetime, is opened more often now. In one corner, we found the Magdalene women. In another corner, out of sight and out of mind, we found women literally torn apart by the barbarism of symphisiotomy carried out in Irish hospitals. In other corners there are women who have been forced by Church and State to hand over their babies to strangers. In others, women are forced to board early-morning flights out of here: poor women; desperate women; terminally ill women; women sobbing with sadness for the unviable foetus they must carry inside them if they stay here to field questions from well-meaning strangers; ordinary women taking difficult decisions with the best of faith and hearts full of hope.
When he appeared at the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway last week, the former master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Peter Boylan, said had she been given a termination on the Monday or Tuesday, one or two days after she was admitted last October 21st, “on the balance of probabilities”, Savita would still be alive. The real problem, he said, was the inability of doctors to terminate her pregnancy at an earlier stage because of the legal impasse in which we all find ourselves. By the time Savita’s condition worsened and termination became possible, it was too late to save her life.
“Just love.” That is the message pro-choice activists have struggled to wrest from the hands of those who place women behind a fertilised ovum in terms of rank and importance.
“Just love.” That is the message falling on deaf ears as our legislators argue about the numbers of clever clinicians who must be assembled to judge the sincerity of a women’s plea to end her pregnancy - or her life.
The anti-choice side have built their settlement on the moral high ground. That high ground is a loveless place, devoid of respect for women. It’s the site of the Magdalene laundries and the wards of our symphisiotomy abattoirs. The same territory. To be “pro-life” is to want to be in control of women. There, love is lost.
To trust women to make their own decisions and to have control over their reproductive systems, is love, because love is trust and love is respect.
With our commitment to support marriage equality, we have stepped into line with other nations. We are walking towards equality and we are starting to love ourselves - and everyone else - without discrimination. The future feels better already.
So thanks to Marriage Equality for inspiring us all.The question we ask now is: do you love us, Ireland? Do you love us as much as Germany or France or Britain or Canada loves their women residents? Do you love us enough to trust us to make the right decisions for the best of reasons? Do you love us enough to release your stranglehold on our bodies before it does any more damage?
Is love reductive and restricting and inflexible, or is love empowering and respectful and beautiful? Praveen Halappanavar knows the answer. His love for Savita has enriched us all. We owe him an unrepayable debt. We owe him an apology that will never be enough.
When the New Zealand parliament paused to consider the importance of their vote for same-sex marriage earlier this month, the gallery broke gently into the traditional Maori love song Pokarekare Ana .
“The sun’s hot sheen, won’t scorch my love,
Being kept evergreen, by the falling of my tears. Oh my beloved girl, come back to me, I could die of love for you.”
Savita Halappanavar. Rest in peace.
Anthea McTeirnan is a member of the Abortion Rights Campaign and Action on X. Action on X is holding a public protest at City Hall Plaza, Dame Street at 6pm on Monday April 29th. Twitter: @amcteirnan