Don’t say the ‘A’ word.

The debate on one of Ireland’s biggest Taboos, abortion has flared up this week, after it emerged a 31-year-old woman who was denied an abortion died at University Hospital Galway.

Alliance for Choice abortion rally

Savita Halappanavar , a dentist from India was admitted with back pain at the hospital on October 21st, Shortly after she was found to be miscarrying, and died a week later as a result of septicaemia.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar , an engineer in Galway, says she asked multiple times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He states that, once she knew she was miscarrying, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical abortion.

This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present. The couple were also told, “This is a Catholic country”. As Savita’s condition deteriorated, it is reported that she repeatedly asked for the foetus to be removed.

The fetus died three days after she was admitted into hospital and was surgically removed. Shortly afterwards Praveen Halappanavar said, his wife was placed under sedation in intensive care as a result blood poisoning. By Saturday her main organs had failed and she was pronounced dead on Sunday morning, Oct. 28.

Praveen Halappanavar has taken his wife’s remains back to India for a Hindu funeral and cremation. News of the circumstances that led to her death emerged in Galway on Tuesday after the Indian community canceled the annual Diwali festival.

After the X case in 1992, wherein a 14 year old girl was allowed a termination because she had been raped and threatened to commit suicide, abortion is permitted in Ireland under the Constitution or Bunreacht Na hÉireann. However this is only in circumstances where there is a real risk to the life of the mother, and no government has introduced legislation to enact the ruling, creating a grey area for medical practitioners.

Most Irish women wanting abortions, an estimated 4,000 per year, simply travel across the water to England, where abortion has been legal since 1967. But this is clearly made awkward if not impossible when the woman is in ill health.

Irish governments have twice looked for public approval to legalize abortion in life-threatening circumstances. Both times voters rejected the proposed amendments. However the Dáil (government) has received widespread criticism over the last few days from disgruntled citizens. They say governments have been reluctant to be seen legalizing even limited access to abortion in a country that is more than 80 percent Catholic.

The Death of Savita Halapanavar has raised serious questions within Irish society. Leaving many people, myself included dismayed at both the legal and health system in the country. Pro- abortion groups such as Action on X and Galway Pro-Choice, are calling on the government to immediately introduce legislation to end the uncertainty around current practices, Whilst other groups  like pro-life campaign remain steadfast in the opinion that abortion should never be legalised within Ireland.

Whatever side however whether pro or anti-abortion the city of Galway and the whole Island of Ireland have been shocked and saddened at the news of Savita’s death. In a country that has a maternal death rate of only 3 out of every 100,000 women ( three times lower than the European and American average) maternal deaths are a rare occurrence.

Protests have been taking place both outside the Dáil and the Irish embassy in London.A candlelit vigil has been organised for Savita and  is to take place in Eyre Square in Galway at 5pm on Saturday, it is being organised by Galway Pro-Choice.

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