Pro-choice groups remember Savita Halappanavar

Four years on from the death of Savita Halappanavar, the people of Ireland have shown they have not forgotten her.

Last night, Galway Pro-Choice group held a candlelit vigil at the Spanish Arch in her memory, while, yesterday, a video made from hand drawings outlining the events that led to Ms Halappanavar’s death was posted to YouTube and various tributes were written in her memory.

Her death in 2012, on October 28 at Galway University Hospital due to septicemia from miscarrying at 17 weeks, having been refused a termination, galvanised many people to fight for the reproductive rights of women in Ireland.

“Her death was one of the galvanising forces behind the formation of ARC [Abortion Rights Campaign],” said an ARC spokesperson. “We wanted to ensure something like this could never happen again.”

Anna Cosgrave, the woman behind the ‘Repeal’ jumpers, said that it was her attendance at one of the vigils for Savita in 2012 that sparked the idea for her project.

“I want to ask the Minister for Health Simon Harris, when he talks about delaying a referendum [on the eighth amendment], whether or not he is reminded of Savita or other women who have needlessly died because of our archaic abortion laws,” Ms Cosrgave said.

The eighth amendment changed Article 40 of the Constitution in 1983 which acknowledges “the right to life of the unborn, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother”.

ARC states that the result of this was to criminalise abortion in all cases except where to continue a pregnancy would result in death.

In Ms Halappanavar’s case, a termination was requested multiple times but not granted as there was still a foetal heartbeat. The procedure was refused despite the fact the 31-year-old was in intensive care and in septic shock.

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, also referred to the need for a referendum.

“It’s four years since the tragedy of Savita and still there is no referendum in sight. There is no clear commitment about a timeline,” she said.

Several things have happened in the aftermath of Ms Halappanavar’s death.

A HSE report into her death was published in June 2013. Among its findings was that legal uncertainty played was a contributory factor in not terminating the pregnancy earlier.

The report also found that there was an over-emphasis on the foetal heartbeat.

Following this came the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, which allows for a termination when there is a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life from a physical illness, when there is an immediate risk to the life of the woman arising from a physical illness, or when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman arising from suicide intent.

In June 2016, a UN report by the Human Rights Committee called Ireland’s abortion ban “cruel”, “inhumane”, and “degrading”.

As of today no date for a referendum has been set. However, a Citizen’s Assembly is discussing the matter of abortion. It is due to report next June.

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