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The Irish Mother Emma Watson Wrote To Didn’t Die Because Abortion Was Illegal


Another celebrity has joined the slew of stars who supported Ireland’s repeal of its laws protecting life from conception, this time in an open letter from Emma Watson ostensibly to a woman who died of being refused an abortion.

In an emotional open letter to Savita Halappanavar, whom she called “passionate” and “vivacious,” Watson invokes sympathy for the Indian-born woman who died while pregnant. In 2013, Halappanavar was not allowed to receive an abortion in Ireland despite her wishes and subsequently died. Abortion supporters say her death was directly due to the fact that abortion was illegal in Ireland at the time, and it sparked national outrage.

In a fashion magazine called Porter, Watson writes an open letter:

Dear Dr Savita Halappanavar: You didn’t want to become the face of a movement; you wanted a procedure that would have saved your life. When news of your death broke in 2012, the urgent call to action from Irish activists reverberated around the world – repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution. Time and again, when our local and global communities collectively mourn a tragic death due to social injustice, we pay tribute, mobilize and proclaim: rest in power. A promise to the departed and a rallying call to society, we chant: never again. But it is rare that justice truly prevails for those whose deaths come to symbolize structural inequality. Rarer still is a historic feminist victory that emboldens the fight for reproductive justice everywhere.

The timing no doubt marks the fact that Ireland’s president officially signed Ireland’s controversial reversal of their unborn protections into law on September 18. On May 25, the country voted to overturn their decades-old protections for unborn human life. Leading up to the vote, dozens of local celebrities, like Hozier, U2, and Boy George, promoted the repeal, saying it was the very definition of “love.”

But Halappanavar Didn’t Die Because Abortion Was Illegal

To be sure, Halappanavar’s death is a tragedy. It’s sad, awful, and no loved one would want to endure such news. However, it’s disingenuous to say that she died because abortion was illegal. It’s worse to use her death as a political tool.

Halappanavar died of a septic miscarriage and a misdiagnosis of the sepsis. According to the official investigation, around 16-17 weeks’ gestation, she was told she was having a miscarriage, which took about a week to unfold.

During this time, Halappanavar requested an abortion. This abortion would not have been, as nearly all are, to kill her child, who had already died or was in the process of doing so naturally. In cases of miscarriage, similar procedures to abortion are sometimes used to make sure all of the child has left the mother’s body after it has died. But sometimes the miscarrying mother’s body ejects the child and related tissue on its own, and often doctors will wait for the mother to do that naturally before using dilation and curettage to ensure no parts of the child or pregnancy remain so the mother can heal.

Doctors were unaware at this point that Halappanavar had sepsis—a blood infection—so they denied her request because they did not know her life was in danger. Eventually, doctors diagnosed the sepsis, but at that point the miscarriage was complete and the sepsis continued to attack her body.

The official investigation found Halappanavar died of cardiac arrest caused by the sepsis. Yet Ireland’s abortion ban allowed the procedure if it was deemed medically necessary to save the mother’s life, so overturning the Eighth Amendment’s life protections for both mother and child was not at all necessary to protect Halappanavar or anyone else in her situation.

Still, Halappanavar’s death following a miscarriage and the news that she had been denied an abortion sparked national outrage. Irish journalist Eilis O’Hanlon stated that in its initial coverage, The Irish Times had “opted to present what had happened as a simple morality tale” and said “the debate for the rest of the week was coloured entirely by The Irish Times’s decision to reduce a complex personal tragedy, about which few facts were still known, to a rallying call.”

Partly in response to her death and the outcry, the Irish government introduced and passed the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013” which loosened Ireland’s guidelines for their abortion law. Halappanavar’s name continued to be invoked during the campaign to repeal Ireland’s abortion law, just as Watson continues to invoke it now. But using her story this way is simply a misrepresentation of the facts.

Abortion Is What Truly Endangers Women

The fact that Watson is using Halappanavar to support a new law that makes it legal to abort babies is not surprising, since she’s on record as an abortion proponent. But her involvement is even more irresponsible in light of additional developments since Ireland voted on the referendum in May.

Ireland has not only decided to make abortion legal, with a few parameters, but its Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed that abortions will be sponsored by taxpayers. Making abortion free will not just increase abortions but skyrocket them. Why? It’s called moral hazard: responsibility will go out the window, since others must pay for the “fix” for unwanted pregnancies. This is irresponsible not just fiscally but morally.

On top of this, medical professionals warned the Oireachtas Health Committee that Ireland may be unprepared to suddenly embark on free, nationwide abortions. Doctors and other medical professionals told the Health Committee they are worried providers will not be adequately prepared to do abortions, due to lack of training or equipment.

Dr. Mary Favier, vice president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, told the committee, “The result of this referendum has created a new reality. … Termination of pregnancy will be legalized for the first time in Ireland, this means that there are actually very few clinicians who are trained to deliver this care pathway unless they have received training outside of the jurisdiction.”

So not only will there likely be a spike in abortions due to the law, and the fact that they are free, but Ireland’s doctors may be unprepared to facilitate the procedure safely. This is a long step backward from the place Ireland has been for decades, in terms of medical practices. According to the Maternal Death Enquiry, Ireland has been one of the safest countries in the world to have a baby in because doctors have found better ways to work through problems during pregnancy, since abortion was illegal.

While it’s certainly become commonplace for Hollywood celebrities to insert themselves in political causes, Watson spread false propaganda. Neither misleading women nor advocating for killing their children is pro-woman.

Correction: This article previously incorrectly stated “dilation and curettage is not a treatment for sepsis.” It is in fact the usual treatment for uterine sepsis before an unborn child reaches 14 weeks old. Halappanavar’s child was 17 weeks old at the time of her miscarriage.

However, the purpose of such a procedure in cases like Halappanavar’s is not to kill the child, as an abortion is, but to clear the infected uterus of what will quickly kill the mother if not removed, in an effort to save any lives possible. Thus this use of the procedure is not comparable to elective abortions, as the author argues here. The Federalist consulted with an OB-GYN to clarify this matter and issue this correction.