Last weekend changed the history of Ireland and gifted its women what they deserved years ago. The key to the revolution was an Indian dentist who died after being denied a termination of pregnancy in 2012. The country's campaign for abortion reform started after 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar's death and it became a catalyst to overturn Ireland’s ban on abortion in all but the strictest circumstances.
The whole country remembered her, as the Aches mural, beside Bernard Shaw pub in Portobello, became a focal point of homage to Halappanavar. People gathered, laid flowers and left hundreds of messages, of both sorrow and gratitude. A framed portrait of Halappanavar was held amid the cheers and tears of celebration as results were announced at Dublin Castle on Saturday. Lay around many messages, attached some were to a mural of Savita Halappanavar. Some said: “Sorry we were too late. But we are here now. We didn’t forget you.” Another said: “I’m so deeply sorry you had to suffer. You have changed our history and our destiny.” As the result was announced, some people stood in reflection, some hugged each other in joy, some sobbed, while some jumped out of their cars to drop off flowers.
In 2012, Savita Halappanavar was admitted to University Hospital Galway on 21 October, when she was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child. Medical staff concluded that a miscarriage was inevitable but did not intervene, as a foetal heartbeat could be detected, though Halappanavar and her husband requested repeatedly for an abortion. A few days later, medics diagnosed infection as a result of ruptured membranes and later led to a septic shock. Halappanavar died on 28 October with multi-organ failure.
Halappanavar’s father has called for the legislation that will follow this historic referendum result to be referred to as 'Savita’s law'. Speaking on the phone from Karnataka, India, Andanappa Yalagi told the Irish Times, “We have one last request, that the new law, that it is called ‘Savita’s law’. It should be named for her.
“We’ve got justice for Savita and what happened to her will not happen to any other family now. I have no words to express my gratitude to the people of Ireland at this historic moment.”
At a press conference in Dublin on Sunday, Together for Yes, an umbrella group representing pro-repeal organisations, said it would support such a move. It also called on the government to start immediate work on legislation. “The people have spoken,” said its co-chair Orla O’Connor.
Reaction of citizens
The Guardian wrote stories about people who paid respect to Halappanavar and her sacrifices and one such example was that of Sean Drugan and his six-year-old son who reportedly taped a note to the wall that read: “Today your pain, your death has brought this country together, together for yes, together for looking after each other, our own, our others.”
Asked what had led to his gesture, he said: “Sometimes it takes someone from a different culture to change their adoptive country. Your memory will not be forgotten.”
Niamh Ní Chonchubhair reportedly said: “Savita was the moment where we all woke up to the urgency of this … Savita’s passing was unnecessary but people were OK with it and that was what started this. I hope six years on it means something.”
Thousands of people took the streets in candlelit vigils and protests across Ireland, calling for changes to allow women to have access to legal abortions. An inquest jury had also returned a unanimous verdict of medical misadventure.
Yalagi said the family was “really, really happy” with the result.
Savita’s husband, Praveen, has now remarried and loves in the US.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who is of Indian-origin, said on Saturday that a “quiet revolution” had taken place. It is also believed that Salman Khurshid, the then external affairs minister, had called back the Indian ambassador Debashish Chakravarti to Delhi and believed to have 'strictly instructed' him to pursue the matter with the Irish government. It is also reported that official inquiry into Halappanavar's death, recommending the abortion law reform, was led by a renowned UK physician of Srilankan Tamil origin, Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, who was the former President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, and elected President of the British Medical Association (BMA).
Northern Ireland demands to liberalise laws
British Prime Minister Theresa Mayfaces demands from the ministers and lawmakers in her Conservative party to reform Northern Ireland's highly restrictive abortion rules after neighbouring Ireland's landslide vote liberalises it.
Penny Mordaunt, Britain's women and equalities minister, said that the victory to legalise abortion should now bring change north of the Irish border.
Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe with even rape and fatal foetal abnormality not considered legal grounds for a termination. And unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, abortions are banned apart from when the life or mental health of the mother is in danger.