In the footsteps of Savitha

Savitha was forced to carry a dying foetus to the point it killed her. She lived in the pro-life utopia of Ireland, where people were defending the right to exist of ectopic pregnancies.

[TW – Abortion]

A young immigrant to Ireland who cannot be named for legal reasons was refused an abortion despite being suicidal. She was legally forced to give birth by Caesarean Section. Post Savitha, the laws were amended to allow for increased abortion but access is far from universal and this case shows precisely why. She was forced to carry the child and when she threatened a hunger strike to protest the decision, the local health authorities obtained a court order to deliver the baby prematurely.

At 25 weeks.

This was the first proper test of the 2013 Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act, which allows for limited abortions. The law allows abortions where the woman’s life would be in danger. The law provides for cases where the woman is suicidal or in cases of rape and incest. But as I said before? The law is a paper tiger, a pro-life law wrapped in such exceptional circumstances that access to abortion is very hard.

In the UK? The law is clear. Abortions are legal up to 24 weeks after which an abortion is allowed on limited grounds in order to save the life of the mother, prevent injury, to stop the birth of a non-viable foetus and protect a woman’s mental health and for cases like rape and incest. By contrast? The medical guidelines given to Irish doctors can obstruct women seeking abortions for mental health reasons. In many cases? A woman needing an abortion would require approval from up to seven  experts.

Thousands of women in Ireland are at risk of being refused abortions in the Republic of Ireland or the alternative of termination in the UK. In this case the woman’s poor grasp of English and unawareness of her rights under Irish law lead to her not using the right of transit. Groups such as the Travellers are at particular risk due to inherent bigotry compounding access.

So far Lawyers for Choice have been active and making submissions to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on the major flaws of new legislation. In the limited circumstances where abortion is permitted the arbiter of abortion are doctors operating under faulty guidelines rather than the widely accepted rules of medicine which states that women should have access to abortions. In Ireland? Women who wish for an abortion have an array of social, financial and legislative penalties to punish women who seek termination.

This may be the second time this year that the UN has criticised the pro-life Irish state.

If anything? The forcing of a suicidal woman who does not wish to carry a child through a panel of seven doctors is mental torment and the usage of C-Section as a tool of oppression is harmful to the patient, against the spirit of the operation (to save and reduce trauma to women in specific cases) and is a barbaric. This is not the actions of a productive dialogue on women’s healthcare but of people who have set out to deny women healthcare because of their faith.

And this is the faith that forced the birth of a 25 week old foetus demonstrating that they do not care about the quality of life. They risked everything a 25 week old premature baby has to face from lung damage to neurological defects to death in order to protect their religious belief that women shouldn’t have access to healthcare.

Ireland currently has the dubious honour of being a country where it is harder to get an abortion than India.


  1. Martin, heading for geezerhood says

    I have to disagree with you…Ireland is NOT a “pro-life utopia” but rather a “forced birth utopia”. This can be seen in their indifference to the health and life of a 25 week, C-section preemie.

  2. Nicola says

    Hi. I’m not here to disagree with your blog but to point out a factual error. No person [in Ireland] is defending the rights of an ectopic pregnancy. In the case you were referring to it was a miscarriage (incomplete) which caused Savita to need care in the first place. It was not an ectopic pregnancy. Those are routinely dealt with as medical procedure akin to surgical placental removal (

    I completely agree, however, that the laws, and doctors, do little to protect women in Ireland. It’s scary that a young woman was given no choice but to carry to 25 weeks and then be forced into surgery.

  3. starskeptic says

    This is the first reference I’ve seen where her name is spelled “Savitha” – is that more correct than what’s been reported?

  4. karmacat says

    I read that 2 psychiatrists recommended an abortion but the ob ruled over them. In the US another doctor tends not to ignore an expert’s opinion especially when it comes to suicide. They know it can lead to a malpractice suit. The legal system in the US has its problems but it does get people to stop and think. I am assume no one in Ireland will sue the doctors for malpractice for delivering a baby at 25 weeks and forcing someone to have a C-section is just torture

  5. lorn says

    I don’t understand those people.

    I work hard to understand as many sides of an issue as I can wrap my head around but how they can force the retention of an ectopic pregnancy is beyond me.

  6. angharad says

    Hi Nicola, you are correct that Savit(h)a did not gave an ectopic pregnancy, however Catholic hospitals do not deal routinely with ectopic pregnancies. Standard medical procedure to deal with ectopic pregnancies is to perform an immediate abortion. In Catholic hospitals the practice is to remove the fallopian tube, or even (in some) to wait for the pregnancy to rupture and then clean up the mess. These are not optimal solutions, as I am sure you can imagine.

  7. Nicola says

    May I ask where you know this from? I’ve had a look through Irish literature (via google) from independant councilling services (which explain whys and how’s and treatments) and their forums. No where did I see even 1 person saying they had been left waiting while the pregnancy went in too long.

    There was mention of a “wait and see” in low risk cases (from Wikipedia and others) to seeing (on forums) that most are ideally treated medically with drugs. No where have I seen dealing with ectopic pregnancy as being abortion (with references stating that most countries don’t label treating them as abortion). With not one website saying that the usual abortion treatment (a uterine scraping, I believe, in early pregnancy). That would be because it needs a much more careful surgery to detach the pregnancy from an area not designed to carry the weight or to attach/detach a foetus.

    So can I ask, what Catholic hospitals are these?

  8. says

    Who me? I had people attempt to defend ectopic pregnancy by letting it progress to a point where it becomes a danger then aborting it rather than doing so earlier.

  9. Nicola says

    I was asking the earlier commenter. But any answer is fine. By people, do you mean doctors? Or people, women, with ectopic pregnancies? Honestly curious, from the bit I read I did see that some women were conflicted as to whether it should be construed as abortion.

  10. lorn says

    Marcus Ranum @ 11

    It is always that way. Laws enforcing such things are easily sidestepped if you have enough money or power. It is only the poor, weak, and underrepresented, that have rigid moral codes imposed upon them. Before abortion was made legal in the US those with money would send their darling daughters off for a few weeks of “holiday” in Mexico or Switzerland. If the theocrats succeed in outlawing abortion in the US, or simply making it impossible to find a clinic, the wealthy will go back to sending their daughters to distant lands.

    This has far less to do with enforcing morality than enforcing privilege.

  11. Ichthyic says

    In the UK? The law is clear. Abortions are legal up to 24 weeks after which an abortion is allowed on limited grounds in order to save the life of the mother, prevent injury, to stop the birth of a non-viable foetus and protect a woman’s mental health and for cases like rape and incest.

    oddly, here in NZ everything is the same as the UK… except it’s ILLEGAL instead of legal to have an abortion.

    but… we actually have very easy and paid-for access to abortion services here; far easier than even in the UK, let alone the US.


    well, we take a VERY broad view of what “protect the woman’s health” means. Basically, the law states that if a woman has an objection to being pregnant, and is not being coerced into having an abortion, then she gets an abortion if she wants one. the mere objection itself being sufficient reason to assume the woman’s health is at risk. Basically, it really is a bodily autonomy argument, built into a law that makes it look like abortion is illegal.

    yeah, I know, it sounds bizarre, but I can’t argue with results; it works fine here, and I know from personal experience.

    so, the fundies are placated that abortion is “illegal” (they rarely even object that it’s covered under the national healthcare system), and meanwhile people are able to get the fuck on with their lives just fine, i wonder if something like that would work in Ireland?

  12. sundoga says

    We used to have something similar in Western Australia – technical illegality but functional legality. A few of our doctors decided to force the issue a few years ago though, and one basically demanded to be arrested and charged, forcing the pollies to actually deal with the issue. Now it’s legal, and that IS better – because who knows how a future government is going to choose to interpret the law?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>