How the death of Savita made me pro-choice
By: Kylie Noble
When I started studying at Queen’s University Belfast, 5 years ago, I joked to a friend, “Imagine if I became one of those angry feminists?”
My introduction to feminism prior to university was via my A Level politics teacher. Whilst a woman, she was anti-feminism, resenting having to teach it to us and not considering it a real ideology.
It only took a few months, but I too became a raging feminist. I tried to resist, but the more I involved myself in activism-such as Amnesty International, campaigning for women’s rights in Afghanistan for example- the more I became convinced of the effect patriarchy had on my life, and the lives of women across Ireland and the world.
Before Queen’s, the greatest influence in my life was my family’s Church, the Church of Ireland. In rural communities, north and south of the border, the Church is the focal point of community life. Our Church was conservative and I adopted, without ever questioning, the Church’s views on most social issues.
I had even spent a period as an assistant Sunday school teacher, and hoped to keep this up in a Church in Belfast, and in halls, stuck a Bible quote on my wall, among my many posters. I had been pro-life, growing up. I wrote an A grade essay for GCSE English on the immoralities of abortion, beyond rape and incest.
Queen’s was the first time in my life, that the world outlook I had been raised in, was challenged. The first time I met people with differing political, social and religious views. I remember the first pro-choice rally I attended, in 2012, covering it for the student newspaper. I was both unnerved and intrigued by it, and the arguments being put forward. Numbers were small, around 20, in contrast to the thousands who marched recently in Belfast for the Rally for Choice.
Fairly quickly, I started losing my Christian faith, becoming Unitarian and left wing in my thinking but dithered on my position on abortion. I personally felt conflicted on its morality.
The death of Savita Halappanavar, on 28 October 2012, two months into my fresher year, was the moment that shifted me firmly to a pro-choice position.
Savita died in Galway, due to complications of a septic miscarriage, after being denied an abortion. Anger reverberated across the island of Ireland and the globe. I realised that my personal feelings on abortion were exactly that-personal. I had never thought of the woman* carrying the foetus, as a person in their own right. In my mind, the ‘unborn child’ always came first. I have friends and family in the Republic of Ireland-the same could still happen to any woman, to a relative, or a friend. And I begin to realise, that circumstances need not be ‘drastic’ for abortion to be permitted. A pregnancy is always drastic if a woman feels she is pregnant against her wishes or will.
I think of the line, “A woman wants an abortion like an animal whose leg is caught in a trap.” Every woman on these islands deserves the right to personal autonomy, to freely choose or not to access abortion
Half a decade on from Savita’s death, I am hoping and working for an Ireland which does not endanger its women. An Ireland in which we can ensure other women can have the choices Savita was denied.
*All women, all pregnant people and all trans people.
The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign are holding a Vigil for Savita tomorrow at the Irish Embassy in London at 7pm. All welcome, bring a candle. More details here.