In 2018, we were repeatedly told that Irish women would be safer in pregnancy if the Eighth Amendment was repealed. In fact, when opinion polls showed support for repeal was slipping, abortion campaigners reverted to using the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar to raise unfounded fear to push a ‘Yes’ vote. Then Taoiseach Leo Vardakar, warned voters that pregnant women would die if abortion was not legalised.
So, has legalising abortion made pregnant women safer? It would appear that it has not. In four short months after the abortion bill passed through the Dáil, two women died in Irish maternity hospitals, and the apparent causes – sepsis and a severe staff shortage – are the same factors which led to the death of Ms Halappanavar.
Marie Downey from Limerick, who had given birth to a little boy, died in Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH). It is thought she suffered a severe epileptic seizure, and was trying to raise the alarm when she collapsed on the floor of her room, trapping her baby underneath her. Baby Darragh also died two days later, and was buried cradled in his mother’s arms. Just three nurses were on duty on the ward that night, caring for 31 patients. Like many other maternity hospitals, staff in CUMH have been complaining to the Minister for Health for years about the lack of resources, and the inquiries into the death of Savita Halappanavar found that staffing was an issue in the ability of maternity units to ensure women are safe.
Some of the country’s leading obstetricians have pointed out that staff shortages have led to a crisis that is endangering women and babies. Instead of addressing that crisis, politicians like Simon Harris seemed to be too busy endlessly tweeting about abortion.
In a separate tragedy, another mother, Karen McEvoy from Kildare, died on Christmas Day 2018 after giving birth to a baby girl in the Coombe maternity hospital. Ms McEvoy, who left behind three young children, died of sepsis, which also caused the death of Savita.
In the wake of Ms Halappanavar’s death, the three separate inquiries which found she died of sepsis and because of medical mismanagement, also called for reforms in the sector, including the implementation of early warning scoring systems in the management of infection.
The HIQA report noted that changes had not been implemented after another woman, Tanya McCabe, died from sepsis in a very similar case in 2012.
But the media wanted Savita’s death to be only about abortion – and they exploited the tragedy to build public support for a change in Ireland’s laws. So, they kept the public’s attention on repealing the Eighth Amendment instead of addressing the crisis in staffing, and the changes in protocol required to actually protect pregnant women.
The National Maternity Strategy group was tasked with the vitally important task of developing standards and processes to make sure that cases like Savita’s did not occur again.
After the referendum and repeal of the 8th came the shocking revelation that funding for the National Maternity Strategy had been halted, because, it seems, Simon Harris needs that money to provide abortions.
According to Róisín Molloy, a patient representative on the National Maternity Strategy steering group, “the money that had been intended to go on the maternity strategy was effectively being spent on abortion services since January of this year”.
It was almost beyond belief.
The Government is taking money away from a vitally important strategy to ensure women do not die in pregnancy – and giving it to funding abortion. There is no clearer way of showing that their priorities do not lie with protecting women, but simply with ending the lives of preborn babies.
Simon Harris, by every measure, did an absolutely terrible job as Minister for Health, but the media gave him a free pass for the ever-worsening chaos in the health service because he not only delivered on abortion, he also became a virulent and aggressive opponent of any pro-life initiatives.
There was very little reaction from women’s rights campaigners to Simon Harris’ decision to halt funds for the programme necessary to make sure women’s lives are protected in pregnancy and childbirth.
It seems women’s lives don’t actually matter that much anymore, now that the Eighth has been repealed and abortion campaigners have got what they wanted.
The self-appointed spokespersons for Irish women - according to the media anyway - to the National Women’s Council of Ireland, ignored this appalling downgrading of women’s lives. The money is being spent on abortion, after all, so best not to make a fuss in case voters might wake up to the absolute deception that the campaign to repeal the Eighth was from the very beginning .
It seems legalising abortion did not make pregnant women safer after all. Women died in our maternity hospitals. The government halted funding for desperately needed measures to save women’s lives. It is time for women in this country to wake up and realise that they were horribly deceived.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the Irish Catholic.