Ireland boils over anti-abortion law

New Delhi waits for probe report

Savita Halappanavar’s bereaved family at Belgaum hopes for justice, as her tragic death in faraway Ireland has triggered fresh protests against the much-debated ban on abortion in the Catholic-majority country in northwestern Europe.

Protesters gather outside Leinster House (Irish Parliament building) during a demonstration in favour of abortion legislation in Dublin on Wednesday following the death of Savita Halappanavar (inset). AFP

“We hope to get justice,” Savita’s husband Praveen Halappanavar told journalists at Belgaum on Thursday, a day after thousands of people rallied with pictures of his dead wife outside Irish Parliament in Dublin and demanded that the ban on abortion be eased immediately.   

The Indian government too stepped in and expressed concern over the circumstances that led to the death of the 31-year-old woman at the University Hospital at Galway in Ireland. New Delhi said it will wait for the outcome of the investigation ordered by the Irish government.

Savita died of septicemia on October 28, after Irish doctors allegedly turned down the couple’s repeated requests to terminate her 17-week pregnancy. The doctors told them that Ireland’s laws did not permit termination of pregnancy as long as the heart of the foetus beat. The doctors removed the remains of the foetus only after its heart stopped beating, but it was too late to save Savita.

Praveen, who hails from Haveri, and Savita, the daughter of Andaneppa Yalagi of Belgaum, tied the knot on April 19, 2008. The couple lived in Galway where Praveen worked as an engineer at Boston Scientific and Savita as a dentist. She was also a secretary of the Galway Indian Community.

Ireland’s restrictive laws on medical termination of pregnancy have since long been at the centre of an intense debate. Even after the Catholic Church’s influence in politics significantly waned over the past two decades, successive governments avoided easing legislations. Though Ireland’s constitution prohibits abortion, the country’s Supreme Court in 1992 ruled that it should be legalised particularly to save lives of women in situations where their lives were at risk. The country, however, is yet to enact such a law.

Savita’s death triggered fresh calls for legalisation of abortion, with at least 2,000 people gathering for a candle-lit vigil to demand that the government must enact laws to clearly spell out the situations when the doctors could go for abortion.

“My reaction was outrage. Shame that this happened in my country,” 33-year-old protester Emer McNally, who is herself six months pregnant, was quoted as saying by Reuters. About 40 protesters staged a demonstration in front of the Irish Embassy in London too.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny condoled Savita’s death, but said he could not comment until an investigation into the death is completed.

New Delhi said the Indian embassy in Dublin was “following the matter closely”. The Irish Embassy in India said the country’s government was committed to “establishing the full circumstances and facts surrounding” the death of the young woman. Expressing regret over tragic death of Halappanavar, Syed Akbaruddin, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said in New Delhi: “The death of an Indian national in such circumstances is a matter of concern…Our sympathies have been conveyed to the next of kin who our Embassy has been in touch with. ”

Terming the death a “terrible tragedy,” the Irish Embassy said in a statement that “an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mrs Halappanavar’s death has been ordered by the Health authorities in Ireland and the investigation team, which will include independent external expertise, will be liaising with Mrs Halappanavar's family.”

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