Ireland, Abortion and a Vacation in Scotland

Stratford_countrysideAbout every two years our family takes a major vacation. We started this tradition in 1993 by going to Nantucket, which required reservations for the ferry made way in advance of the vacation and a fair amount of research by my husband on the best place to stay. Success! We loved it.

We’ve expanded since then, going to England, France, Switzerland, Canada (Western and then, years later, Eastern) and Spain. (We’ve also taken trips to Guatemala and China, but those were adoption-related, not vacations)

We love our special trips and spend about a year planning them (my husband does all the research) and use up lots of frequent flier miles for our free tickets.

This summer we were supposed to go to London (my younger daughter is an Anglophile) and Ireland. I had this romantic notion of a sojourn in London and a ferry-ride across to Ireland followed by a leisurely drive in a rented car among green hills and friendly people.

I don’t doubt that the plan would have been successful and would have met my expectations, but reality, in the form of the horrible unnecessary death of a young woman, intervened.

I’m sure almost every one is familiar with what happened to Savita Halappanavar last October, but here’s a brief summary: Halappanavar was pregnant with a child she wanted. Her pregnancy ran into problems and the dying fetus was killing her. She desperately needed an abortion to save her life and she and her family begged for an abortion. The problem was that she was in Ireland. Ireland: an EU country, a Western industrialized nation. Ireland: that didn’t allow abortions until there was no longer a fetal heartbeat. She waited for four long days in agony, dominated by pain, until the fetus was really most sincerely dead, and by the time the doctors were willing to stick their skinny cowardly necks out and remove the dead fetus, it was too late for Savita.

There was international outcry. The Irish parliament, which had delayed better defining the abortion law as demanded by their own highest court 20 years earlier, was finally being pressured into doing something.

For me, that was the end of Ireland. I couldn’t bring myself to think about a vacation in a country that would allow such a horrible death to occur. Yes there are many countries with laws just as bad, but those aren’t vacation destinations for us either.

I wrote to the Prime Minister (the Taoiseach), the Deputy Prime Minister (the Tánaiste, who’s from the more enlightened non-majority political party), and the Minister for Health telling each of them of our decision not to vacation in Ireland. Almost immediately I got back a really nice note from an aide to the Deputy Prime Minister. Months later, I got a two line form letter from someone in the Prime Minister’s office. Nothing from the Minister for Health. I guess he doesn’t care about our tourism money coming into his country any more than he cares about the lives of women.

So we chose Scotland for our vacation. After a week in London, we spent two weeks exploring the Scottish highlands – remote, sheep-filled, rainy and cool, with incredibly friendly people and a taste of haggis (I ate a tiny amount that came with a dinner and also blood pudding which wasn’t great, but wasn’t horrible). We don’t regret changing our plans.

I still have a longing to see Ireland (not because of any Irish heritage. Face it, the name O’Teitelbaum doesn’t exist). And I know that since Halappanavar’s death, the Irish parliament (the Oireachtas) has made an infinitesimal but important fix to the law. Think Progress reports that a young pregnant Irish woman recently survived a situation similar to Savita’s because of the change in the law.

I haven’t decided whether that’s good enough to make Ireland an acceptable trip. Probably not. Abortion is still illegal in Ireland in every case except when the woman would definitely, absolutely, without doubt die because of the pregnancy. It seems that women’s health and well-being in Ireland just doesn’t measure up against the sacredness of the fetus.

And I’m also, very sadly, aware that the legislatures in many states in the U.S. are pushing for laws that are just as bad as the original, horrible law in Ireland. If the forces of women-hate win in those states, they won’t be vacation destinations for us either. As the buttons I just bought say: “If you cut off my reproductive choice, can I cut off yours?” I can’t do that, but I can decide not to give the benefit of our family’s money to those who devalue the lives of women.

Marti Teitelbaum lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She is the mother of two high-energy girls (a twenty-something future radical social worker and a finally full teen 13-year-old!) and is married to a psychiatrist who devotes half his work life to a child mental health clinic. For almost 20 years, Marti used her degree in public health to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, producing most of their numbers on children’s health, disability, health insurance, Medicaid, and immunization. She has always been a political junkie and a fiber-holic and now, for the first time in her life, has the time to indulge in both of these addictions. Politics and weaving have a lot in common: both take a lot of thought and preparation and both have a lot of complicated entanglements. But the difference is that weaving calms the soul and produces something useful and potentially beautiful. Politics doesn’t.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Harald Hansen/Creative Common License

  • Amy McVay Abbott

    I went to Ireland earlier this year; I had no idea. I guess I’ve had my head in the sand. Abortions should be safe, legal and rare, but this is unreal. Thanks for sharing. Really made me think.

    • Marti Teitelbaum

      Thank you. From everything I read, It was a terrible ordeal for Savita and her husband. Losing the baby would have been bad enough. Death is terrible. But this manner of death is beyond description — shades of medieval times.

  • Gwenfrewi

    I think you should check your facts on this case. Savita died of septicemia following an e. coli infection, and an abortion would not have saved her. See

  • Anne Born

    I was also in Ireland last month and left the day they voted in Parliament to allow the multiple psychiatric evaluations to determine if a woman could be eligible to terminate her pregnancy. Remarkably, the Irish Times published the details of the first legal abortion on their front page, and the name of the woman appeared in other news outlets.

    Don’t be fooled. Ireland is not what it seems, probably never was.

    • Marti Teitelbaum

      Some Irish people we met while in England and Scotland were clearly against the abortion laws so I understand what you mean. But that doesn’t negate what happened to Savita including that when she & her husband were begging for the desperately needed abortion of a non-viable fetus, a health professional’s answer was “this is a Catholic country.” the legislature was told, commanded, in fact, by Ireland’s highest court to fix the law but they did nothing for 2 decades until the horrible death forced them into it. Right now Irish women who want abortions crossover to England. But in serious medical situations or emergencies, that may not be possible. I wouldn’t have blamed a French citizen for refusing to come to the U.S. during our Iraq invasion and the restrictions they still have on abortion in Ireland have the same effect on me.

  • Anne Born

    There was another case, of a 14-year-old girl, I believe, that I read about while I was there. She wanted to go to the UK and was told she could not leave the country right away, but that in roughly 9 months, they would have a definitive answer to her request.

  • Drew Hymer

    The law didn’t stop doctors from saving Savita’s life. They could have removed the baby if they would have realized that Savita’s life was in danger. The problem wasn’t the law but that the doctors screwed up.

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