Yesterday The Irish Times reported on the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied a potentially lifesaving abortion, which she requested after being told by physicians she was having a miscarriage and that her fetus had no chance of survival. The 31 year old dentist was 17 weeks pregnant when she sought treatment at University Hospital Galway on Oct. 21, complaining of severe back pain. According to her husband Praveen Halappanavar, she was told that it would be illegal to abort while the fetus’s heart was still beating: “The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Although Savita [a Hindu] replied that she was ‘neither Irish nor Catholic’ they said there was nothing they could do.
Unfortunately, the doctor’s hands were tied. As the New York Times reported:
“In 1992, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that abortion was permissible in cases where there was a “real and substantial risk” to the life of a pregnant woman — including the possibility of suicide. But 20 years later, the Irish government has still not passed a law to this effect.”
This tragedy has already sparked debate over abortion laws in Ireland. Thousands of protesters have marched in Belfast, London, Dublin, Cork and Galway, hoping to force the Irish government to stop dragging their feet on this important issue. For people living in the US, Halappanavar’s death illustrates the frightening reality we face if legislation protecting women’s right to choose is reversed.