On Friday, 25 May, the Irish people voted in a historic referendum to soften rules governing the usage of abortions in the Catholic nation. Now, days after the country made their voice clear, campaigners for the ‘Yes’ vote want their government to name the legislation after Indian Savita Halappanavar.
Halappanavar has become an icon of sorts to the Irish public that have been demanding laxer laws around the reproductive rights of woman. Currently, many Irish women have to travel to England to have an abortion. Unsurprisingly, this comes with risks ranging from financial to medical and social. The referendum result should hopefully put an end to these journeys.
But why has a dentist from Karnataka become the face of this movement? Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Savita and her husband were travelling to Ireland in October 2012, when she was admitted to a local hospital in Dublin after complaining of pain. Halappanavar, who was pregnant at the time, was told that her baby was going to be miscarried – and that there was nothing the couple could about it.
Despite their inevitable grief, the dentist and her husband realised that perhaps the consequences of this sudden pain could be much more grave. The husband, Praveen Halappanavar, has said that he repeatedly asked the Irish doctors to perform an abortion, but was repeatedly rebuffed. The reason? “This is a Catholic country.”
In the early hours of 28 October, Savita Halappanavar died as a result of complications from her pregnancy. Four days earlier she had contracted an infection and went into septic shock. The medical team at the hospital devised a plan to administer a drug-induced abortion, but Halappanavar spontaneously miscarried in the afternoon. It all went downhill from there.
Unsurprisingly, questions were asked of the doctors and medical team, but the blame lay squarely at the feet of an old Irish law that banned abortions unless there was evidence of risk to mother – which they couldn’t prove until the infection hit. Shortly before the incident, a law had been passed to give doctors more leeway, but the medical staff was unclear as to whether they would be prosecuted or not.
Today, Halappanavar’s parents and widow have been campaigning for the yes vote. When the referendum results were announced on Friday evening, her father stated that “he had no words to express my gratitude to the people of Ireland at this historic moment.”
While nothing will bring their daughter back, it sounds like Savita’s Law just might bring them some consolation.