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The Death of Indian Woman in Ireland Renews Debate on Abortion

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Download The death of a pregnant Indian woman in Ireland has provoked international outrage.

Savita Halappanavar died earlier this month after a hospital there refused to perform an abortion.

The incident has provoked protests both in Ireland and the United Kingdom and renewed a fierce debate about Irish abortion laws.

In India, political parties and women’s support groups are demanding justice and asking the government to intervene.

Bismillah Geelani has the story.

Outside the Irish Embassy in New Delhi, hundreds of protesters shout ‘India won’t tolerate atrocities against women’.

The protesters hold placards with photos of Savita Halappanavar.

Vijay John is among the protesters.

“We are here to express the deep sense of anger and outrage people in India have felt over the death of our sister Savita Halappanavar. The entire country is mourning her tragic death along with her family and we want our government to take up the issue with the Irish government not only to seek answers but also to make sure that the doctor and other health officials responsible for her death are punished as soon as possible.”

31-year old Savita Halappanavar was a dentist living with her husband who has been working as an engineer in Ireland.

She was 17 weeks pregnant and asked for an emergency abortion because she was having a miscarriage and suffering from severe back pain.

Doctors allegedly refused her demand because there was a foetal heartbeat. A member of the hospital staff told her that Ireland was ‘a Catholic country’.

Husband Praveen Halappanavar says his wife died from blood poisoning.

“We wanted to have the baby but because the baby wasn’t well and they couldn’t save the baby we requested for termination of pregnancy again and again but we were told that the law there wouldn’t permit it and then she picked fever and I think the infection had got very severe by that time.”

Abortion is illegal in Roman Catholic Ireland, except when it’s necessary to save the mother’s life.

Petra Conroy, spokesperson for the Catholic Church, says the Irish abortion laws are flexible enough to deal with situations like this.

She spoke to the Indian television channel Times Now.

“We would make a definite distinction here in Ireland between abortion which is directly aimed to kill the child and a necessary intervention which may result in the death of a child. So to be absolutely direct, under the current medical practice in Ireland, under current Irish law and just as Catholic, from the Catholic teaching point of view as well, the mother should have gotten everything she needed to save her life. Even if the foetal heart beat was still present if she needed the baby to be induced in order to save her life that should have happened." 

The incident was widely covered by the Irish media, provoking a series of protests from women’s groups in Ireland and the UK.

In the Irish capital Dublin, thousands marched to Parliament with candles and Savita’s photo in support of greater access to abortions for women.

One of the protesters Christina McElroy spoke to Ireland’s Trade Union TV.

“I came here tonight because it’s to our shame that this happened. And I’m both saddened and very angry and that’s why I brought this candle because I didn’t really want to shout today. I just want to express solidarity with Savita’s family.”

In India, abortion has been legal since 1971, although access is still difficult.

The reaction in India has been even stronger with both media and political parties taking up the issue and putting pressure on the government to intervene.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is spokesperson for the main opposition party BJP.

“Savita’s is a case of murder. It is directly linked with human rights and is a cause of concern for the entire country. The government particularly the External Affairs Ministry must act quickly and do everything possible to bring justice for the grieving family.”

The Irish government has launched an enquiry to find out what went wrong and what led to the loss of Savita’s life.

Human rights lawyer Suranya Iyer says the enquiry into Savita’s death must also look into any possible racism involved in the case.

“If it is the case that the laws in Ireland do not deny a woman who is at the risk of her life from getting an abortion then the inquiry that’s going on must extend beyond medical negligence to include whether there was racism at place. Who was the medical professional that she interacted with during the sick days she was at the hospital? What was the race of the nurses midwives and junior doctors she was pleading to actually quicken the pace of miscarriage and not abortion. What kind of interaction did those individuals who interacted with this lady had with people of colour, how much have they travelled outside their culture and what is their instinctive reaction to a woman screaming in pain in an Indian accent?”

The Indian government summoned the Irish Ambassador in India to convey its concern.

Women’s groups in India say the best way to ensure that Savita gets justice is to put pressure on the Irish authorities to change the law that killed her.                                     

Ranjana Kumari is Director of the Centre for Social Research, an organization working for women’s empowerment.

“Ireland is only among the four countries in the entire Europe that’s violating the human rights law of Europe. In fact the European Union has also said that 84 percent of the Irish People are Catholic and 54 percent of them voted to change the law and make it pro-abortion.  A wrong law is in place and that was observed even at the cost of a woman losing her life.”

Senior journalist Padma Rao Sunderji says raising the issue is necesarry.

But he adds that overall, the Indian reaction to the tragedy has been highly inappropriate.

“What is most distressing is the turn that the public debate in our country has taken. We have a debate that’s revolving that’s immediately turned a tragedy into Ireland versus India, into Catholic versus Hindu. And I think this is incendiary and dangerous. We should be looking at the facts on the ground. I think it’s hugely ironical and I think it’s important to certainly consider that things like this happen almost every day and we should not be standing in judgement over what happens in another country.”


Last Updated ( Sunday, 25 November 2012 16:01 )  

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