Sunday, 2 December 2012

Abortion in Ireland

Savita Halappanavar died on 28 October in hospital in Galway. She was happily pregnant, until she went to hospital with severe back pain and was told she was miscarrying.

Halappanavar asked for an abortion, but was told she couldn’t have it because Ireland is a Catholic country, despite the fact that doctors told her husband the foetus wouldn’t survive. She was told that while there was a foetal heartbeat they couldn’t abort. Her family say she would still be alive if she had been allowed a termination. Two inquiries are now being conducted into the case.


Whether or not an abortion could have saved Savita Halappanavar is not really the point. Maybe she would have died anyway. But it is scary to think that an otherwise healthy woman could be in her situation, in pain, in hospital where she could have been saved, and she was denied the potentially life-saving treatment because of other people’s religious beliefs. Not her beliefs - she was not a Catholic, she was a Hindu. It makes me thankful that I live in England, not for the first time.

Aren't we all pro-life?

I don’t think any of us really want death, or abortions. It’s OK to not like abortions – they’re not very nice. And you know what – if you are against abortions you never have to have one. That’s your choice. But what shouldn’t be your choice is what the rest of us do, especially when it's based on spurious beliefs about the sacredness of a human life that hasn't yet come into existence (it's called 'being born' for a reason).

Savita Halappanavar’s case is high profile because she died and that makes it desperately sad. But what about the other women? Teenage girls who make mistakes and end up pregnant – we all make mistakes and we all have to deal with the consequences. Maybe one day they will be brilliant mothers, but they know they’ve got a lot to learn before then. Does one misjudged shag really have to mean they lose the life they’d hoped for? And worse, women who are raped. Or just women of any age who for whatever reason become pregnant and know that this isn’t the right thing for them - wrong man, wrong time, etc.

I’m not arguing for abortion as a family planning tool – it’s a serious procedure at any time and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. But the same goes for motherhood. Do we really need more unwanted children – there are quite a lot around already?

Give the women the freedom, with the help of their doctor, to make the decision that is right for them, and if their religion says they shouldn’t do it, then that’s up to them.

New legislation on abortion

The results of a new poll were announced this weekend, suggesting that the majority of people in Ireland want new legislation to prevent what happened to Savita Halappanavar from happening again.

The Sunday Business Post/Red C survey suggests eight out 10 people would support laws which allow abortion where the mother's life is threatened, including by suicide.

The Irish government is considering introducing new legislation and/or regulations on abortion, and it looks as if some kind of decision will be announced before Christmas.

This won’t be a complete reform – more a tinkering of the existing laws to allow very few women, in the most desperate situations to have an abortion, and I suspect that the majority of the 4,000 Irish women who travel to England and Wales every year to have their pregnancies terminated will continue to do so. But it is a step forward, opening up the door just a crack, to give some hope for a future where one person's belief that abortion is evil does not mean that those who need it are denied it – whether because their lives are at risk, or because they made a mistake.

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