Savita Halappanavar: Following Her Death, Ireland Finally Revisits Abortion Laws

Finally. More than six months after the death of Savita Halappanavar, Ireland’s government will be voting on legislation to allow abortions when there is a risk to the mother’s life. The bill’s proposal stems from the increased pressure on Ireland from the international community after Halappanavar died of blood poisoning in Ireland last October. Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when her doctors denied her an emergency abortion. But the proposed bill (which hasn’t even passed yet) is still the bare minimum — abortion won’t even be legal in Ireland in cases of rape or incest. While evidently Ireland has a long and proud tradition of Catholicism, that tradition doesn’t need to bar every woman in Ireland from obtaining an abortion should they need or want one.

The proposed bill, known as the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013, would require two doctors to certify that the fetus is a risk to the mother’s life and that abortion is the only way to avoid that risk. A doctor can also perform an abortion if there is an immediate threat to the woman’s life. The bill will be presented to both Irish houses of parliament and is expected to pass.

Although it seems that a large reason for the restrictive abortion laws in Ireland are conservative religious ideals, that’s not an excuse for Ireland to outlaw abortions. As of 2011, there are 3,861,300 people living in Ireland who define themselves as Catholic — 84.2% of the population. This is obviously a clear majority, but that doesn’t mean that all Irish women need to abide by conservative religious ideas, or even that all Irish Catholic women need to.Nearly 90% of Italians are Catholic, but abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978.

Plus, the ban on abortion in Ireland hasn’t even stopped Irish women from getting abortions — a pro-choice charity said it had helped over 300 Irish women in the past three years get abortions in Britain, where abortion is legal. Instead of stopping abortions, the Irish law instead forced these women, dozens of whom had been raped, pay to travel to Britain to obtain an abortion. And this obviously doesn’t take into account the number of women who travel to Britain for abortions without the help of charities. The situation becomes an issue of class as well as one of reproductive rights: the women who can afford to travel to get an abortion are privileged over those who can’t afford it. Pro-choice charities can only do so much to help women in poverty obtain the medical care they want.

Instead of pretending like abortion doesn’t happen, the government of Ireland needs to allow Irish women to have the right to choose what happens to their body in the country they live in. It’s unfortunate that it took the entirely avoidable death of Halappanavar to open the eyes of Irish legislators, but at the very least, this bill is a step in the right direction.