Fair probe

Savita Halappanavar’s death due to denial of abortion has ignited furious protests worldwide over Ireland’s archaic laws. 

Although her medical condition required a termination of her pregnancy, doctors did not perform the abortion. Abortion is prohibited in Ireland. Under the laws, termination of pregnancy is permitted if there is a threat to the mother’s life. Savita’s fate has brought into the limelight the right of women to safe and legal termination of pregnancy. Ireland has not only denied women this right by banning abortion but also by leaving its laws ambiguous has made it open to various interpretations. Thus if the pregnancy is a threat to the woman’s health – as opposed to her life - abortion is not permitted. As Savita’s case shows, the line between threat to the health of the woman and her life is a thin one. In the wake of Savita’s death, Irish authorities have boasted that the county is among the best in the world for a baby to be born. Yet, this tragedy underscores that it is among the more unsafe for a pregnant woman. A mere miscarriage can cost a woman her life.

The Irish government’s insensitive and opaque handling of the case is distressing. It has dragged its feet on an independent probe. Investigations announced so far have not been impartial. One probe team included doctors who were part of the decision making in Savita’s case.  Papers related to the request put in by Savita and her husband for medical termination of the pregnancy are reported to have gone missing.  Evidence is being destroyed. In the circumstances, the various probes being announced are not evincing much confidence among Savita’s family and the Irish public.  The Indian government has said it is monitoring developments on the matter and providing the family with all assistance. This isn’t enough. It must use diplomatic channels to nudge the Irish government to ensure an independent probe.

Denial of the right to abortion has forced thousands of women to opt for unsafe termination in countries like Ireland and Italy, where legal access to abortion is denied. While India can take pride on its liberal laws on abortion, the lack of awareness of this right especially among rural women and the abysmally poor health facilities in the country results in many pregnant women turning to unsafe options to terminate their pregnancy. Savita’s death should serve as a wake-up call. Legal right to abortion must be backed by proper access to facilities for safe abortion.

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