The Last Word: Enough Sitting on the Fence

A vigil in Ireland for Savita Halappanavar. Photo: Google Images.

By Darina Molloy, Contributor
December / January 2013

The young Indian dentist who died in Galway when doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy even though she was carrying a non-viable fetus has sparked protests all over Ireland, with citizens calling for the government to consider the life of the mother in such cases. 

Dear Taoiseach,

I have never before ‘made representations’ to my TD on any matter, and I must confess that up to now I have found the very idea to be ludicrous, and I have no truck with those who contact political offices for help with allowances or out-of-date passports. Like almost everybody else in the country, I have at times despaired at the financial mess we are in and I am infuriated by the injustice of watching my pay packet being raided while bankers continue to receive massive payouts and politicians receive unvouched expenses. But I have never voiced an official complaint.

I have paid my household charge, hold a television license, both household cars are taxed and insured, and my husband and I regularly volunteer on committees relating to our childrens’ activities and schooling. We have made, and continue to make, every effort to raise our children to be part of a new generation of respectful and hard-working Irish citizens. I know some or all of them are probably destined to leave the country at some point, but as a former resident of the US, I don’t believe this to be a terrible outcome – emigration can be a wonderful thing.

In short, I tolerate a lot. Yes, I give out, and shout at my television, but I don’t join protest marches or write to my TDs demanding this, that or the other. But Taoiseach, that changes here. The untimely and tragic death of Savita Halappanavar is altogether a step too far in what purports to be a civilized country, one which values life.

Ten years ago, on March 6, 2002, I gave birth to my second child, a beautiful boy. Later that evening, with permission from my doctor, I left my hospital bed to cast my pro-choice vote in the referendum. Very luckily for me, abortion has never been something I’ve had to worry about, but the difficult business of birthing, and the even more challenging business of child-rearing made it clear to me that I could never preach to another woman about her choices.

It seems to me that while Ireland has the easy option of England on the doorstep, politicians would be happy to just let things lie, in order to avoid the wrath of such vocal lobbyists as the so-called pro-life groups. But the rallies held this week in Dublin, Cork and Galway should surely indicate to you – our legislators – that we have had ENOUGH.

Enough sitting on the fence, enough shaming ourselves in the eyes of the world, enough refusing to tackle the difficult issues, and enough allowing the Catholic Church to dictate our civil laws. The Church had control of this country for long enough and look where that got us.

So please, Taoiseach, grasp the bull firmly by the horns here. It’s time to sort out this abortion mess, for once and for all. Let us show our daughters that this is a country which values their freedom of choice. My eight-year-old daughter Zoe recently showed you around her school’s willow garden when you visited Snugboro N.S. She was a combustible mix of nerves and excitement in the lead-up to her big moment, but greatly enjoyed the day. She may be young, but she is already starting to think deeply about things, asks many questions about the way in which the world works, and like most children has an innate sense of fairness and justice. I do not relish having to explain to her the workings of a country that would not listen to a dying woman’s plea for help.

I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of pride as we saw images of you, just days after your appointment as Taoiseach, with President Obama in the White House on St. Patrick’s Day. It  rather surprised me, that sense of pride, as I always saw being Irish (or any other nationality) as a condition of birth rather than something to get puffed up about. Perhaps it came from our shared Castlebar roots, or maybe it was because I felt that we were ushering in a new political era in Ireland – a welcome change from the corruption and greed of the preceding years. For whatever reason, at that moment, I felt very proud to be Irish. Reading about the death of Savita Halappanavar this week, I felt nothing but shame.

I realize that the Irish electorate is not always deserving of being asked to determine such crucial issues – particularly after the disastrous turnout for the Children’s referendum – but this is a key issue that has long stalked our country and will continue to do so until we tackle it.

As one who was disenfranchised for six years while living in the U.S., I have never shirked my voting responsibilities, and have regularly brought my children to the ballot box with me in order to demonstrate to them the importance of voting when they are old enough.

The death of Savita Halappanavar, and the way in which you and your Cabinet respond to it, is something that will weigh heavily on my mind the next time I have occasion to vote in a general election.

Yours, in hope,

Darina Molloy, Castlebar, Co. Mayo

Darina Molloy is a former Assistant Editor of this magazine.

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