They don't care if women die

Savita Halappanavar didn't have to die, but opponents of abortion let her. Lindsay Craven describes the deadly consequences of limiting women's right to abortion.

Thousands march in Dublin to remember Savita Halappanavar and to protest lack of access to abortion (William Murphy)Thousands march in Dublin to remember Savita Halappanavar and to protest lack of access to abortion (William Murphy)

FOR THE last few weeks, I've wanted so much to write about my most recent week on the Community Abortion Information and Resource (CAIR) Project Abortion Fund hotline, something I have been a part of for the last year, but which affected me particularly during this last shift.

It's something so difficult to articulate, an intense emotional, almost spiritual, experience, sharing this time with these women. Yet what sounds abstract is a direct reflection of the map of facts, statistics and legislation that zigzags across our country when it comes to abortion access, or lack thereof.

I have wanted to connect my experience on the hotline and the lived experiences of women (observing respect for their privacy, of course) to these statistical and factual realities that are discussed on blogs, in the news, and among activists.

Many of us have heard the phrase "the personal is the political," and abortion is an experience that particularly highlights this. Because in the midst of choosing something so heavy (or not, because for many women, it's an easy choice)--finding the funding for what is an expensive procedure no matter what date of gestation, finding transportation to an appointment that for some women can be a day's drive or even a flight away, getting time off from work, finding a friend or family member or partner to go with you to your appointment, finding child care, navigating restrictive laws depending on the state you're in, finding a way to get your procedure without the knowledge of abusive partners and parents--the last thing on the minds of the women I speak with is politics.

Which is precisely why their stories are uniquely, desperately, vitally political.

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THINGS HAVE happened since my shift. An election was won or lost, depending on where you stand. A journalist at a progressive news source I trust pointed out during his election night coverage that it was more heartening to see people reject the radically fundamentalist right than it was to see a far-from-truly-progressive Obama win.

I agree, and it was clear that the drastic anti-reproductive justice rhetoric of the far right that has dominated their talking points over the last four years was being rejected on some levels. In truth, defeating candidates that say the worst possible things about rape shouldn't really be where the bar is set. The same "war on women" was being waged when we woke up on November 7.

Ohio is on its way to defunding Planned Parenthood. The governor of Wisconsin wants to arrest people who implement "Obamacare," and you know that's all about the Health and Human Services mandate requiring insurance companies to cover contraception free of co-pay.

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is back to work, with the same views he's always had on abortion (we can assume he'll maintain them now that he doesn't have to appease more moderate Republicans).

The week before the election, the women I spoke with in Idaho--who make up the majority of calls I receive for an abortion fund that serves four northwestern states--were all facing at least four-hour drives to reach their abortion procedure appointments, most were forced to go other states to obtain them due to the fact that both of the only two providers in the state won't perform procedures past 13 weeks.

All of them were facing financial hardship and lack of support from a state that refuses to fund abortion procedures, but has plenty of citizens willing to pour money into the "crisis pregnancy center" (CPC) that sits next to one of the state's abortion providers, and lies both about the services it offers and the effects of abortion. The state will soon have a mobile CPC that will "reach out" to the rural communities of Idaho, providing a "first response to those girls."

It's difficult to discern all the different slaps in the face to the women of Idaho here. Is it the lack of trust from a state government that will undoubtedly try in 2013 to push through a forced ultrasound bill that was defeated in the last year, in part due to the support of out-of-state individuals who jumped to put it in the national spotlight?

Is it the prominent pro-life activist motoring to a pap-smear-less, contraception-less Idaho town near you soon, to rescue all the delicate "girls" in distress with a message of post-forced-pregnancy "sexual integrity"? Is it something bigger and scarier that we know is happening all around the world but is so horrible we have a hard time drawing it into the public discourse until we are forced to?

Is it death?

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SINCE I spent a week networking for funds, chatting, sharing my feelings and experiences, crying, laughing and supporting women through their abortion experiences during my CAIR shift, I have learned that a woman died.

She didn't die because of a law. She didn't die of a disease. She died a long, painful death. Her husband watched her die and asked for it to be prevented. More importantly, she felt herself dying, felt her wanted pregnancy ending and slowly infecting her body, and begged for this death to be prevented. And a doctor, a hospital, in a first world country with not just Third World access, but Medieval beliefs about abortion just let her die.

There was no law tying the hospital's hands. Ireland's laws, while decidedly anti-choice, absolutely allowed for an abortion to save Savita Halappanavar's life. And they just let her die. Again, I stress, not because of a law, but because of the powerful stigma surrounding abortion in what he termed "a Catholic country" in the doctor's explanation for her murder.

The pro-life media scrambled to circulate the astoundingly offensive pretension that we don't know if an abortion would have saved her, and that the doctor and the hospital did the right thing because "abortion never saves a life." And they know they are lying.

They know that this time, there is no covering up what the pro-life ideology is about, that when justifying a belief system at all costs is more important that a woman's life, the misogyny that makes the pro-life movement a movement of control over reproductive autonomy becomes clear.

When you have a movement that is set on limiting contraception, a movement that ignores science, ignores medical and mental health information to the detriment of health worldwide, that will do everything it can to stop women from having abortions but ignores the reality that mandatory ultrasounds, 20-week abortion bans and other restrictive laws and scare tactics won't stop women, what do they have left?

Controlling women's bodies is their true agenda, and they will allow the one thing that really will stop women. They will stand there, and with no mandate but an oppressive, archaic, subjective and bigoted belief system, allow a woman to die. That is how they will stop her, and they will defend it.

This article is the culmination of two weeks of processing the fear in the voices of the women I talked to--in the voices of even the strongest, most pro-active women on the phone. It's a description of the darkness I felt throughout that entire week, as though something horrible was chasing us and would not stop until we went right over the cliff.

For a brief moment, the drop-off didn't seem too far down. Things are bad, but how bad could they get? None of the women I spoke with went over the cliff. We made it. We got up the mountain safely, if not without considerable trouble. But we now know that what seemed like a storm of restrictions would actually fight these women to the death if it had to. In Ireland, it did. And make no mistake, the mentality that allowed Savita's death in Ireland is no different than the attitudes that would allow it here.

If we let it. Give me liberty. Or give me death. The anti-choice have made it perfectly clear those are the only two options on the table. They have no idea the gauntlet they have just thrown down, and that a liberty they will sadly never understand will be the only option. Free abortion. On demand. Without apology. For Ireland. For Idaho. For the United States. For the world.