The view of one denomination on abortion should not be imposed on everyone else
‘God is merciful. He does not want women to die. ’
Savita Halappanavar’s widower, Praveen. Rules about women’s bodies can end up being fatal. Photograph: Eric Luke
Women have spectacular bodies. And I’m not just talking about the women selected by our male-dominated media to provide the eye candy that keeps many of us silent and feeling second best.
I’m talking about all women. All women and their incredible bodies, full of reproductive potential, that, in an ideal world, they could choose to employ (or not to employ) as and when and if they wished.
Of course, we do not live in an ideal world. We never have and history is littered with attempts to control the awesome reproductive power of women. Women are actually so remarkable that many religions unleashed higher male powers to instil fear in their followers and impose rules for women to follow. In many countries, this history of control of women, based on medieval needs to maintain female subservience in the pecking order, is, sadly not, well, history.
It is certainly not history in Ireland, where the present is littered with rules, regulations and restrictions aimed at controlling women and their terrifying bodies. These rules control women. These rules restrict women. These rules punish women. These rules, sadly, as the case of Savita Halappanavar showed, kill women.
Savita Halappanavar’s father, Andanappa Yalagi, talking to Kitty Holland of The Irish Times at his home in Belagaum in India last week, said that the family “were shocked when we heard about this law about abortion in Ireland. This is an evil law. How can this be called a Christian law? God is merciful. He does not want women to die. Religion should have nothing to do with medicine. We are Hindu and Savita was Hindu and very religious. She worshipped every day. But that is religion. It should have nothing to do with medicine.” He is right. Religion should have nothing to do with medicine.
Last weekend in Ireland, every Catholic parish in the State got a letter from the Roman Catholic bishops. The leaflet pointed out that “there is no appeal process for the unborn” and stated that “a baby in the womb is voiceless”.
That was leaflet number five in a series of 10 the Catholic bishops will be delivering over the coming weeks. While they are telling the people of Ireland what to do, they might take time to listen to the man whose life has been ruined by the avoidable loss of his daughter in an Irish hospital for want of a swift termination of her unviable pregnancy. The loss of his daughter, who was refused a termination and told by the midwife that she could not have one as the foetal heartbeat was still detectable. It was a “Catholic thing”, she told Savita.
It is indeed a Catholic thing. A Catholic thing that was inserted into our Constitution as Article 40.3.3. in 1983. The Catholic hierarchy campaigned with vigour and spoke in favour of that amendment, but the amendment was opposed by the other mainstream churches in Ireland - demonstrating that there is no such thing as a monolithic divine truth in the matter of a woman’s reproductive rights.