How Many More Like Savita?

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by Rev. Harry Knox
President & CEO
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Last week, millions of families around the world celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights, with firecrackers and the lighting of ceremonial lamps in the home. Like so many other holidays, it’s a time to spend with ones you love.

The family of Ireland’s Savita Halappanavar will be mourning her tragic death instead.

Late last month, Savita started to experience terrible pain and cramping in her 17th week of pregnancy. Although doctors determined immediately that she was miscarrying, they refused the abortion requested by her and her husband due to Irish law that forbids all abortions, even in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. After three days of unimaginable suffering, the doctors removed the then-dead fetus, but it was too late for Savita, who quickly died of severe blood poisoning.

Crystalizing her grief and the issue, her mother said,

“In an attempt to save a four-month-old foetus they killed my 30-year-old daughter. How is that fair you tell me?” Mrs. A. Mahadevi, Mrs. Halappanavar’s mother, told Indian TV…

“How many more cases will there be? The rules should be changed as per the requirement of Hindus. We are Hindus, not Christians,” she said. (Irish Examiner, November 15, 2012)”

Hindus generally don’t have a strong stance one way or another on a prohibition of abortion, instead saying that the decision should be made by the woman, with the best interests of the parties involved taken into account. While the Irish high court ruled that abortions in extreme cases are permissible, the nation’s constitution has a strict prohibition in all cases.

Heading into one of the loveliest holidays of the Hindu year, Savita’s family began by mourning the loss of a baby, and quickly moved to mourning the loss of their beautiful daughter, wife and sister.

Here at home, Roe v. Wade offers a legal guarantee that a woman can make the kind of decision that Savita and her husband had to make, but thanks to religious extremists, far too many women lack actual access to the care they need. Despite the powerful message sent to the far-right candidates who lost their races on Election Day, just this week anti-abortion zealots in the Michigan and Ohio state legislatures were advancing terrible bills designed to limit a woman’s healthcare options.

We’ve been having a lot of conversations in the office about the unique place that RCRC occupies in the reproductive justice movement – a place where we are able to spiritually contextualize and articulate the often complex decisions that a woman and her family face when an unexpected, unintended, or unwanted pregnancy occurs. We are able to offer appropriate guidance to clergy, laity and women searching for care that is grounded in deep spirituality and the belief in the moral agency of the woman making the decision. We offer comfort after decisions are made, confident that God – however the divine is manifested for her – still loves her.

Unfortunately, we sometimes have to offer solace to a mother who has to suffer needlessly the loss of the precious, beautiful light of her daughter.

While it breaks my heart, I’m grateful that we can be there in a situation like that. I have no doubt at all that it is God’s work we are doing.

I pray that someday very soon, we won’t have to lose another precious woman like Savita.

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