Wednesday November 13th the entire country of Ireland and most of the world was rocked by the news that a woman in an Irish hospital died after being denied a termination for a baby she was already miscarrying. She was 31 years old, she was a dentist and her name was Savita Halappanavar. As an Irish person I can honestly say that that day I was ashamed to be Irish although I did find myself defending my country and its people while talking about this subject to friends overseas.
For most of the summer and up until last week I was almost obsessively following coverage of the US presidential election and I would find myself becoming enraged each time a new and more ridiculous definition of rape came before me. I was also more than a little smug when the people of America let their votes do the talking against the supposedly educated men who spewed this nonsense. But my happiness at that and Obama’s victory was short lived as on Wednesday the smirk of triumph I had on my face was well and truly wiped off.
A beautiful woman died for no reason. Her only crime was she lived in the wrong country. I want everybody reading this that does not live in Ireland to know that the country is up in arms about this. The majority of the general public is embarrassed, ashamed and furious this has happened. Numerous protests are being planned out and taking place in our nation’s capital and around the country this weekend. Several different organisations have also spoken out against this atrocity.
While it is being alleged that the Halappanavar’s were told Savita could not get a termination because Ireland is a Catholic country, most of the blame does not lie with religion, it lies with the government. For the last 20 years there has been a question mark over the legality of abortion. This issue was brought to the attention of the public in 1992 during what is known as the X case. A teenage girl was raped, became pregnant and wished for a termination. First, she was denied this and had an injunction brought against her. When she claimed to be suicidal as a result of the pregnancy the Supreme Court eventually ruled that women had a right to access abortions when their lives are considered to be in danger, this included suicide.
However, since then abortion has been a grey area. Although in some cases abortion is allowed, there is no legislation to indicate what they are. The Irish government was slammed by the European Court of Human Rights two years ago for not clearing this up. Unfortunately it is now too little too late for one family.
Partly why the government have always been afraid to touch the issue of abortion is because Ireland is a predominantly a Catholic country and they didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds. Well that was then and this is now. Slowly but surely times in Ireland have changed, religion does not have as much of an influence on the people anymore. The hand that now feeds the government is raised in the air pointing fingers of blame at those people in power who were once too afraid to do anything.
I want people reading this to know that the country of Ireland will not let the government avoid this matter any longer. I also want you to know that we are truly sorry that this had to happen in order for us to stand up and demand that something be done.
Savita Halappanavar’s death will not be in vain.
Yvonne Ní Mhurchú promotes female empowerment, safety and equality. She lives in Limerick City, Ireland. Yvonne studies Psychology and Philosophy at Mary Immaculate College and is a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) Support Worker at Rape Crisis Midwest. She is completing a Rape Crisis Counselling course at Rape Crisis Midwest as well. Yvonne’s writing has also been published on ihollaback.org.
Photo Credit The Irish Times.