Indian woman’s image leads ‘Yes’ camp in landmark Irish abortion poll

Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian-origin dentist, died in 2012 after her requests to terminate a 17-week pregnancy were denied. Ireland will hold a referendum on May 25 on liberalising Ireland's abortion law.

world Updated: May 19, 2018 07:46 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Ireland,Abortion laws,Savita Halappanavar
File photo of Savita Halappanavar.(Reuters)

The image of Savita Halappanavar – an Indian-origin dentist who died in Galway in 2012 after being refused an abortion due to strict Irish laws – has been splashed across towns and streetsbefore a landmark referendum on May 25 on liberalising Ireland'sabortion rules.

The laws currentlyimpose a near-total ban, forcing thousands to fly to England and other countries to terminate pregnancies. The referendum is to repeal the eighth amendment to Ireland’s Constitution, introduced in 1983, which "acknowledges the right to life of the unborn".

The campaign to repeal abortion laws gained momentum after the widely publicised case of Halappanavar , a 31-year-old dentist who came to the hospital 17weeks pregnant and complaining of backpain. She was found to be miscarrying. She and her family requested the pregnancy be terminated several times at University Hospital Galway, but were told that Ireland is a Catholic country and the laws prohibited termination while the foetus is alive. Halappanavar died of septicaemia, a bloodstream infection, a week after her miscarriage.

Her smiling image is on one of the prominent posters used by the Yes campaign group, Rosa. Many Irish women based in Britain and elsewhere are reported to be travelling to the country to vote in the referendum, which is the sixth in the last 35 years.

Earlier referendums led to changes considered minor, but the May 25 round asks the Irish to decide whether one of the world’s most restrictive abortion regimes should be liberalised once and for all, or if status quo is maintained.

As an intense debate continues over abortion in the country, Halappanavar’s Karnataka-based father, Andanappa Yalagi, supported the Yes campaign and its use of his daughter’s image. The family believes she would have been alive if abortions were allowed.

Yalagi told Irish Times, “I will watch this vote. I hope the people of Irelandwill vote yes for abortion, for the ladies of Ireland and the people of Ireland. My daughter, she lost her life because of this abortion law, because of the diagnosis, and she could not have an abortion.”

He added, “We are happy people in Ireland remember Savita, and remember her when they are talking about abortion…It is a long time. It is six years, and the law still has not been changed. I am surprised change has not been implemented. I request that all Irish people vote Yes for this law to change.”

Social change used to come slowly in Ireland,Irish Times journalist Kitty Holland wrote in The Guardian this week. “Now, it cannot seem to come fast enough. Three years ago this month, the Republic voted in favour of same-sex marriage – and became the first country in the world to do so by popular vote,” she wrote.

“A year later, Leo Varadkar, who was a number of firsts rolled into one, became taoiseach (prime minister). At 38, he was the country’s youngest ever prime minister, the first from an ethnic minority background and the first to have come out as gay.

“Now, voters are about to go to the polls to have their say on arguably the most bitterly and repeatedly contested issue in modern Ireland: abortion.”

First Published: May 18, 2018 20:07 IST