Share & Connect
FB – Let’s Be Friends
In September 2012, Irish medical doctors came together to present cutting-edge research and diverse opinions on maternal healthcare. One of the conclusions from the Dublin Declaration on Maternal Healthcare was this – “As experienced practitioners and researchers in Obstetrics and Gynecology, we affirm that direct abortion is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.” On October 28, 2012, Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman living in Galway, Ireland, died of septicemia after having been denied a potentially life-saving abortion for three excruciatingly agonizing days at the University Hospital in Galway.
On October 21, when Savita, who was 17-weeks pregnant, was admitted to the hospital, she was in agony. She had suffered a miscarriage and accepted that she was going to lose her precious baby – a baby that her family back home had yearned for. But fighting through her pain and her grief, Savita requested for an induced abortion, which was refused outright.
“This is a Catholic country. As long as there is a fetal heartbeat, we can’t do anything,” the Irish doctors told her and her husband, Praveen Halappanavar. For three days, Praveen was caught in a desperately futile struggle to convince the doctors to proceed with terminating the pregnancy, as his wife’s health deteriorated with every passing minute. “I am neither Irish nor Catholic,” was Savita’s last plea. The fetus died two days later and a couple of days later, Savita’s heart, liver, and kidneys stopped working. She died because of blood poisoning that may have been reversed had she been allowed to undergo the abortion. Savita’s death sparked global debate over legalizing abortion in Ireland and outrage among thousands of men and women across the world.
Despite a 1992 ruling by the Supreme Court that permitted abortion in the case of a “real and substantive risk” to the mother’s life, Irish governments since then have been reluctant to legalize abortion in a country where 80% of the population is Catholic. Even though the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that the inadequate access to abortions in Ireland – resulting in most Irish women seeking medical termination of their pregnancies, travelling to Britain – for life-threatening pregnancies violated the European Union Law, there is still a lack of legislative detail in Irish law, making abortions a controversial issue. Medical practitioners are unclear on the guidelines and therefore refuse to carry out medical termination.
Carrying out an abortion, however, is not an easy choice even for the mother. Savita Halappanavar wanted to keep her baby but she knew that her body would not permit her to. Savita, like most women, faced the dilemma of her baby’s life and her own conscience. In her case, she had made the right decision by choosing to end her pregnancy.
But Nima Purohit, a lawyer in India, probably still wonders whether she made the right decision. 19-weeks into her pregnancy and Nima’s doctors informed her that her little one had Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a congenital disease that would have serious implications. Since 20-week limit for an abortion was fast approaching, Nima underwent an amniocentesis test, but had her pregnancy terminated. After the abortion, she was still waiting for the amniocentesis test results hoping that she had made the right decision.
Nima made a choice between her child’s quality of life and her own conscience as a mother. One cannot say that she made a wrong decision. Abortions are legal in India, a religious and secular country. Yet, the choice for an abortion is in the hands of a woman. Legalizing abortions can put an end to unsafe abortions but many Indians are still unaware of the risks involved in unsafe abortions. Anti-abortion groups are calling for liberalization of the abortion laws in Ireland. Losing one life, that of the fetus, is better than losing two lives.
The choice of life and conscience may remain a debatable topic; however, religion cannot triumph over a woman’s right to live. Religion will not be able to explain to a child why he lives each day with a genetic abnormality or mental retardation. In some situations, abortions are a desperate need for survival. Law makers and governments have to accept this hard truth. Savita lost out on her abortion rights. She lost a painful battle to religious fanaticism. But, for the other Savitas in the world, radical change and constitutional reform is needed.