Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist, died on October 28, 2012 at the University Hospital Galway in Ireland because of the complications of a septic miscarriage at 17 weeks’ gestation. The dentist of Indian-origin had sought a pregnancy termination after she came to know that she was miscarrying. However, her request was turned down due to then strict anti-abortion laws in Ireland and Savita died of blood poisoning days after miscarrying. Her death triggered a storm of protests in the European nation. But, the Irish government ignored it and amended the anti-abortion laws, making it difficult for women to abort. As a result, women in Ireland had no other option, but to leave the country, if they wanted an abortion.
On May 25, 2018, Ireland held a historic referendum on liberalising its abortion law, considered one of the strictest laws in the continent. In fact, the Irish government was forced to hold the referendum, as protesters wanted the concerned authorities to give legal consent to abortion within 12 weeks of pregnancy (and 24 weeks if a woman’s life is at risk). As per the eighth constitutional amendment of 1983, both the pregnant mother and the child have equal rights to survive in the Catholic country, and offenders have to serve a 14-year prison term. Currently, abortion is only allowed when a woman’s life is at risk, but not in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality. That’s why more than one and half million women were forced to go abroad for abortion between 1980 and 2016.
Meanwhile, the law is all set to be changed as the nation voted overwhelmingly to overturn the abortion ban by 66.4% to 33.6%. The vote in favour of repeal has allowed the Dáil or the Irish Parliament to legislate for change, introducing a much more liberal regime.
Savita’s father Andanappa Yalagi has welcomed the outcome of the referendum, saying: “We’ve got justice for Savita and what happened to her will not happen to any other family now. I have no words to express my gratitude to the people of Ireland at this historic moment.”
Meanwhile, campaigners in Dublin have called for Northern Ireland to liberalise its strict abortion law. Now-a-days, the Irish women visit London or Wales for abortion, as abortion is a punishable offense in Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. Many Conservative MPs in Britain believe that the strict abortion rules in Northern Ireland should be relaxed. Chair of the Westminster’s Health Committee Dr Sarah Wollaston said: “Women in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as other UK residents.”
However, British Prime Minister Theresa May has a different opinion. PM May, who congratulated the Irish people on Saturday after the historic referendum result, resisted pressure over Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, stressing that “Downing Street was understood to believe that any reform is an issue for Northern Ireland”.
Political analysts are of the opinion that it’s not possible for the British premier to back the proposed referendum in Northern Ireland, which is going through a political turmoil. There is no government in Belfast since January 2017, when the two main political parties – Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein – failed to reach an agreement on seat sharing. The Dublin referendum has triggered a fresh debate over the abortion legislation in Northern Ireland. “Now, it’s North’s turn,” said the Sinn Fein. However, the DUP is against relaxation of the law, as it believes that such a move will encourage ‘criminal activities’.
Perhaps, PM May – keeping in mind the vote bank – is not interested in getting involved in the North’s ‘internal matter’.
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