Savita Halappanavar was a 31-year-old Indian dentist who died on 28 October 2012 at University Hospital Galway in Ireland due to the complications of a septic miscarriage at 17 weeks’ gestation. The miscarriage took seven days to unfold, and early in the process, when it was clear that the miscarriage was inevitable, Halappanavar requested an abortion. At that time the medical team had not diagnosed her with a blood infection, and her request was denied because the medical team did not judge that her life was in danger. The medical team eventually did diagnose the sepsis and began trying to treat it, and when they determined that Halappanavar’s life was in danger they had planned to administer misoprostol to induce delivery, but the miscarriage completed before they were able to. The sepsis continued developing and she died of cardiac arrest caused by the sepsis. Her death caused controversy at the time, nationally and internationally, leading to protests and marches.
On 3 November 2012, friends and family of the Halappanavars contacted local pro-choice groups (Galway Pro-Choice) to find out what they could do, with dozens of her friends and family meeting in person on the 6th. Galway Pro-Choice put them in contact with The Irish Times journalist Kitty Holland, on 7 November. Pro-choice groups then organized on the Irish Choice Network (ICN) email group before the story broke.
Savita’s death had triggered a massive debate in the country over the issue of life-saving abortions and resulted in a new law that allows abortions under extreme circumstances. The Irish Parliament voted to legalize abortion in cases of medical emergencies as well as the risk of suicide in July 2013. Saturday’s result paves the way for the Dáil, or Irish Parliament, to legislate for change that would see the introduction of a much more liberal regime.
The first official results of the referendum held on Friday showed that over 66% backed repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which outlawed medical termination of pregnancy.
Irish PM Leo Varadkar told reporters in Dublin that it was indeed an important day in the country’s history. “The public has spoken. The result appears to be resounding … in favor of repealing the 8th Amendment. What we see is the culmination of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in Ireland over the last couple of decades,” The Eighth Amendment prohibited termination in most cases, including rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormality.
Savita’s father Anandaneppa Yalagi said he was “really, really happy” at the news. “We have one last request, that the new law is called ‘Savita’s law’. It should be named for her,” he told The Irish Times from his home in Belagavi. “I want to say ‘thank you’ to our brothers and sisters in Ireland for voting ‘Yes’. It is very important. There has been a lot of struggle for Irish women,” he said.
Picture credits: Belfast Telegraph