Savita Halapannavar, ‘Twilight’s Bella Swan, Abortion, And Valuing Our Own Lives

I’ve been reading the story of Savita Halapannavar, an Indian woman who died of blood poisoning in in an Irish hospital after doctors refused to remove the fetus she was miscarrying until its heart stopped beating, with growing horror. Galway Pro-Choice has the dreadful narrative of her death:

Savita was first admitted to the hospital on October 21st complaining of severe back pain. Her doctor initially told her that she would be fine, but she refused to go home. It became clear that her waters had broken, and she was having a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion). She was told that the foetus had no chance of survival, and it would all be over within a few hours.

However, her condition did not take its expected course, and the foetus remained inside her body. Although it was evident that it could not survive, a foetal heartbeat was detected. For this reason her repeated requests to remove the foetus were denied. By Tuesday it was clear that her condition was deteriorating. She had developed a fever, and collapsed when attempting to walk. The cervix had now been fully open for nearly 72 hours, creating a danger of infection comparable to an untreated open head wound. She developed septicaemia.

Despite this, the foetus was not removed until Wednesday afternoon, after the foetal heartbeat had stopped. Immediately after the procedure she was taken to the high dependency unit. Her condition never improved. She died at 1.09am on Sunday the 28th of October. Had the foetus been removed when it became clear that it could not survive, her cervix would have been closed and her chance of infection dramatically reduced. Leaving a woman’s cervix open constitutes a clear risk to her life. What is unclear is how doctors are expected to act in this situation.

The thought of a woman sucuumbing infection because the child that she wanted, and which she was miscarrying, wouldn’t finish dying quickly enough for doctors to decide that they could intervene to save her, is horrific enough. It’s even worse knowing that her husband, Praveen told the Irish Times: “We had heard Ireland was a good place to have a baby.” But, though it’s taken me a few days to think it through, there’s something particularly awful about reading this story the same week millions of women around the world will go see Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2.

When we last saw Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, Bella was suffering from a pregnancy that was killing her. Her fetus was starving her of nutrition and giving her pregnancy cravings for blood. Despite the extreme danger to her life, Bella insisted on keeping her baby. And ultimately, her child snapped her spine in one of the few genuinely horrifying scenes in this vampire story and had to be removed by emergency—and bloody—Caesarean section. But instead of dying, Bella was transformed into a vampire. Bella was more beautiful, stronger, more sexual than she’d ever been as a human. Her disregard for her own life earns her a vastly improved version of it.

Millions of people will get that message in a movie theater this weekend. But what they should really know is that callous disregard for a woman’s life doesn’t transform her into a higher being, even if both she and her baby survive hardship. Instead, it can leave her in delivery for three days. It can lead to doctors who ignore a woman’s wishes, endangering both her own life and her future opportunity to bring more viable life into the world. It leads to a dreadful answer to a nightmarish question—as Katha Pollitt put it, “Who is more valuable, a living woman or a dying fetus? The Catholic Church has given its answer, and Savita Halapannavar is dead.” It leads to an arithmetic where the value women’s lives and women’s decisions is degraded even when there isn’t a choice between her life and her child’s. I can’t bear to cheer Bella Swan’s transformation when Savita Halapannavar has been sacrificed.