Galway's Vigil for Savita

This evening I stood for an hour in Eyre Square Galway thinking of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian-born dentist who died in hospital here. While investigations are ongoing, it appears that she was refused the termination of an already miscarried pregnancy, a procedure that might have saved her life. There seems little room for doubt that this was an avoidable tragedy caused by our wholly inadequate laws.

This is the hospital I go to when I get sick. Where my mother gets regular check-ups. Where my father was pronounced dead. It is the hospital attached to the University where I study science now, where I once took courses in women’s rights. I’ve always had confidence in it and its staff. But they made decisions here that were not based on medicine, but on a certain doctrinal viewpoint. That is wrong.

If they made an immoral choice though, they made it under the threat of an immoral law. Or we should say an immoral absence of law, thanks to one political leadership after another running scared from its duty to enact legislation clarifying this issue, and despite a Supreme Court judgement that found a blanket ban on abortion unconstitutional twenty years ago.

So what is the legal position on medical abortion in Ireland? Frankly your guess is as good as mine. According to the Constitution:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

This seems to suggest that there are circumstances in which a pregnancy can be terminated in order to save a woman’s life, and in practice this can happen. An ectopic pregnancy – the condition where the embryo implants and begins to develop outside the uterus – will be removed without compunction. It would be monstrous to give an embryo which could never survive the same rights as the woman it would inevitably kill.

And yet Savita’s foetus had no hope of survival and the threat to her life, while not certain, was severe. Why was a non-viable pregnancy allowed to cause her unimaginable distress leading almost certainly to her death – were they hoping a miracle would somehow save its life?

No. They did not terminate the pregnancy because they didn’t consider they had the right to. The foetus was a person with an inviolable right to life, so the fact that it was going to die was not morally relevant; you can’t kill people just because they’re going to die soon anyway. Only in circumstances where it was absolutely certain that the continuation of the pregnancy would lead to the woman’s death could they have moved to end it, and outside clear-cut cases like ectopic pregnancy such certainty is of course rare.

So they went instead with the moral – but wholly fictitious – certainty that the foetus was a human being with a right to life that must be respected, and Savita Halappanavar died.

The idea that human life begins at conception is not a scientific fact. Nor is it ancient knowledge – conception was only understood fairly recently. It is a doctrine. We might as easily consider human life to begin with the first breath. (Indeed that used to be the belief.) We might consider that it begins at some point between conception and birth, even that it begins before conception in some spiritual realm. But a foetus is not a baby any more than the separate sperm and ovum is, and to treat it like one is just a doctrinal fantasy. Enforcing that fantasy on real people can only lead to tragedy.

Hello World

Protesting in Frankfurt

It’s something of a tradition that the simplest possible program, and therefore the first one you’ll ever write, is one that prints out “Hello World“. It’s cute and sweet because it makes the computer seem intelligent and aware – if only just.

I know how it feels. So I’m dropping by here to say hello to the world. I haven’t seen much of it, living as I am in a tunnel of projects and meetings and assignments. And yes, programming.

Also, to say that if you’re in Galway now’s your chance to march with the lovely people from Ballyhea in their ongoing protest against giving all our money to reckless and irresponsible bankers. You know, the ones I went to Frankfurt with. And when I say march, to be honest it’s more a saunter. Despite the seriousness of the issue it’s as good-humoured a protest as you’re likely to find. They’re forming up at the station corner of Eyre Square at 10:45. I urge you to join in.

Further details of this and other protest venues on Bondwatch Ireland.

And for the record, my first attempt at a program printed out “Hello Golfcart”.

It’s a little buggy.

Protest Silenced For The Super-Rich

To be honest you can’t see much happening here, the encampment was around the corner. But that would seem to be because Guards (police) are preventing people from getting close enough to witness the break-up operation. The presence of the CSI van is also a little disturbing. What crime, exactly?

A shameful day for political freedom in this country. Occupy Galway – the last Occupy protest camp in Ireland – was uprooted this morning. The Council cite safety as a reason to suppress the protest. As ever. It’s simply counterfactual. Increasingly dangerous at night in recent years, Eyre Square became a friendlier place thanks to the constant human presence. That encampment was the best things to happen to the Square since they took the feckin’ railings down. But this real increase in safety means nothing when compared to the unspecified dangers posed by tents.

It was something to be proud of, symbol of the freedom of thought and action so damn rare now in this cowed country. The kind of person who found this shameful and untidy is the same sort who granted planning permission to a hundred concrete tumours. Unbelievably, their main pretext for removing the protesters is to tidy the place up for an international yacht race. That’s a bit rich.

Indeed, super-rich. The symbolism is grotesque. Because the ludicrously wealthy want to come and play, the protest against what the ludicrously wealthy are doing to us must be silenced. Shut up and cheer the corporate toys.

But the race is good for everyone in Galway, right? Hmm. It was easier to believe that during the boom times. The rising tide may lift all boats. But when it’s going out, you’d better have a big one.