By Eileen Kane
If you travel outside the U.S., you’ve probably noticed that people in other countries confuse Ohio and Iowa. But not in Ireland — grateful Irish people have emigrated to Ohio to work for the last 150 years. I grew up in Youngstown, but the first time I ever heard the song “Beautiful Ohio” was when I moved to Ireland 40 years ago.
So the Irish have always looked toward Ohio, but after the events of the last few weeks here, it might be a good idea for Ohioans to look toward Ireland.
Why? Because in the current lame duck session, members of the Ohio House of representatives hope to pass bill HB 125, which, if passed, will be one of the strictest abortion laws in the United States. It prohibits the abortion of an unborn human with a detectable fetal heartbeat (usually apparent at six weeks), allowing for exceptions only in the case of medical endangerment to a woman’s life or a major bodily function.
If you ask people in Ireland what they think about this, the majority will say “Been there, did that, doesn’t work.” As a result of a 1983 constitutional amendment protecting the right of life of the unborn and the equal right to life of the mother, we have, in practice, the equivalent of HB 125. In some ways, we can be seen as the “dry run” for Ohio. The latest casualty, and there have been many, was Savita Halappanavar, a young Indian-born dentist who died in my local hospital in Galway.
Savita’s story has gone around the world: she went to the hospital, 17 weeks pregnant, with back pains. She was told she would miscarry; the fetus had no chance of survival. She was in agony, and begged repeatedly for the pregnancy to be terminated. She and her husband were told there was a fetal heartbeat, and that until it stopped there could be no termination. After three days it did, but it was too late. She died of septicemia a few days later.
Our amendment has left both women and doctors in a quandary. Some people are proud to say, “We don’t have abortion in Ireland,” but we have outsourced it to Britain: 140,000 women have gone there since 1983. Others order drugs on the Internet. Our rates are as high as other western European countries.
Respected doctors fear that they may face criminal charges. They say that professionally, they always proceed not only on their best medical knowledge but also on the probabilities of risk. In every case, and some are unique, they must calculate the tipping point: when does a “risk” become a ”life-threatening certainty?” Will they be prosecuted if they fall on the wrong side? No law, no matter how sophisticated, can answer the question, “Will this obese teen be in danger of cardiac arrest?” Or “The evidence differs as to how fast this melanoma is spreading — what are the chances that it’s a major threat?” “Is this raped 11-year-old strong enough to survive a pregnancy? If so, will she be able to have a child when she grows up?”Meanwhile, the pregnant patient will be in a clinic or hospital bed waiting for her health to deteriorate to the point where her doctor feels an abortion is unarguably legal. There will be no politician nearby to offer guidance. And what happens if the doctor’s “good faith” decision doesn’t seem so sound or legal to another medical practitioner, or to the hospital ethics committee?
People in Ireland are angry about Savita and the others. Tens of thousands are marching in the streets. It’s possible that the current Irish government could fall because this.
All of this is happening at a time when we in Ireland had such high hopes: next year we are planning “The Gathering,” a worldwide invitation to all people with connections to Ireland, or an interest in it, to come here. Everyone in Ireland has been given postcards to send to friends and family, extending invitations. I might send mine to Ohio’s state representatives so they can come here and see the future if their HB 125 passes.
Eileen Kane was born and grew up on Breaden Street in Youngstown. She was the 1954 Vindicator Spelling Champion and worked at The Vindicator while studying at Youngstown University. Later she received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh. For much of the last 40 years she has lived in Ireland, where she established the country’s first department of anthropology and taught in it for many years. She has sat on many Irish government bodies, and still works in a wide range of developing countries on behalf of international aid organizations such as the World Bank and UNICEF.