As the magic of autumn slowly walks towards its end, the entire scenery becomes all the more beautiful. The weather is pleasant and dry leaves on the streets paint a vibrant picture. But insides of a hospital in Ireland presented a complete contrast.
A young woman from India lay on the hospital bed and she is more than four months pregnant. Her gestational sac (large cavity of fluid surrounding the embryo) ruptures and protrudes into her vagina. Her condition deteriorates and two days later she requests for an abortion. Her request was dismissed.
Within the next 24 hours, she develops signs of sepsis and delivers a stillborn. The sepsis worsens triggering a cardiac arrest that eventually kills Savita Halappanavar on 28 October, 2012 on a foreign land. She was just 31.
Savita’s husband Praveen said the hospital staff told his wife that she couldn’t have an abortion because Ireland is a Catholic country.
So who killed Savita?
Was it a medical misadventure, as the inquiry stated?
But was it the only reason?
Certainly, the case was not so complex that it resulted in Savita’s death. What really took Savita’s life was a draconian law, based on religious beliefs. The law stated that the punishment for carrying out an abortion, unless the pregnancy posed a threat to the woman’s life, was life imprisonment.
However, the law-abiding doctors concluded that her life wasn’t in danger and an abortion was a need. Apparently, they were trying not to have blood on their hands but ended up causing a bigger, irreparable damage. It was clear that two things caused Savita’s death. 1) Doctors’ miscalculation 2) A barbaric law that denied women authority over their own body.
A revolution was born from Savita’s death
Six years after her death comes a wave of happiness because now, finally, justice has been served. Savita’s death wasn’t in vain as on May 26, 2018, Ireland cast a landslide vote in a nation-wide referendum for repealing the homicidal abortion law.
“Savita was the moment where we all woke up to the urgency of this. I hope six years on it means something.” — Niamh Ní Chonchubhair, Chairwoman of Arts & Disability Ireland’s Board of Directors and a prominent campaigner.
Savita’s death fuelled the legal movement with an indomitable sense of urgency to change the law. There were widespread protests in Ireland, and internationally, calling for annulment of the abortion law.
In a bid to acknowledge the tremendous significance of Savita’s tragic story for the movement and as a tribute to her, the campaigners have asked the Irish government that the new law be named after Savita. The referendum has left Savita’s parents ecstatic and emotional and they feel that their beloved daughter has finally received justice.
Because the Church calls it a sin
The battle for abortion rights had been raging in Ireland for decades against a robust, influential opponent — the Catholic Church. Catholicism (in varying degrees of conservatism) has had an overarching presence in almost every aspect of Irish life, right from its Constitution to its culture.
According to the Catholic Church, abortion is a sin. This brazen stand has no scientific or medical backing but it still found its way into Ireland’s Constitution.
“I think our country owes Savita and her family a great debt. We were so honoured and so touched by the support for the campaign. I was really glad to see her father say that they felt that they had justice for their daughter.” — Gráinne Griffin, co-director of the pro-abortion campaign.
Ever since the result of the referendum was declared, there has been a constant flow of people to Savita’s memorial in Dublin. The memorial is now overflowing with moving tributes and flowers. It is expected that the new law will be passed by the end of the year.
It is a shame that even in so called ‘progressive’ and ‘democratic’ societies, women are not the sole agents of their own bodies. We hope that Savita’s story, along with the entire abortion-rights movement in Ireland finds some resonance in every part of the globe. In India, there is a dire need to steer our abortion law in a pro-choice direction and end the stigma attached to the very idea of abortion. Perhaps, in this regard, we should treat the Irish referendum as a call to arms.
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