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Vol. 76/No. 44      December 3, 2012

(front page)
10,000 in Ireland protest woman’s
death, demand abortion rights
William Murphy
Nov. 17 march in Dublin, Ireland, protests the death of Savita Halappanavar, following a miscarriage after she was denied an abortion. Similar actions took place around the country.

DUBLIN—In the largest action on women’s rights for years, as many as 10,000 people took to the streets here Nov. 17 to protest the death of Savita Halappanavar and onerous restrictions on access to abortion. There have been further actions in towns across Ireland, including in Galway where 1,000 people gathered.

Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist of Indian descent, died Oct. 28 in a Galway hospital from septicaemia following a miscarriage. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said doctors refused her several requests for an abortion and told them Ireland “was a Catholic country,” BBC reported. When asked if he thought his wife would still be alive if she had been given an abortion, Halappanavar told BBC, “Of course, no doubt about it.”

“The doctors’ concern should not be the religion of the country, but the safety of their patients. If a woman’s life is threatened it should be the woman’s choice,” Kayleigh Spier, 24, told the Militant at the demonstration.

Protesters here marched behind a banner that read, “Never Again” and chanted “legislate now!” Placards included, “This Does Not Happen in a Civilised Country,” and “Dáil Dithers, Women Die,” referring to Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament.

“A new law is the least that needs to be done—it can be a stepping stone to widening access to abortion,” said Roisin Mooney, 20, an art student who helped make banners and came with others from the National College of Art and Design.

“The government does not need to hold a referendum,” Mooney said. Prime Minister “Enda Kenny can sign a law tomorrow implementing the previous decision that abortion can take place if a woman’s life is threatened.”

Abortion in Ireland is illegal except in cases where doctors assess there is a threat to the woman’s life. At the same time, doctors face possible imprisonment for performing an abortion if their decision to do so is found to conflict with Ireland’s constitutional protection of “the life of the unborn.” Consequently, many women travel to the U.K. for an abortion.

It is illegal for Irish doctors to advocate an abortion or make an appointment for a woman to have an abortion abroad.

“Tonight’s rally is another step in a long struggle to protect women’s lives and their choices,” Sinéad Ahern from the Irish Choice Network told demonstrators. “Twenty years have passed since the X case and nothing has been done,” he said, referring to an attempt in 1992 to prevent a pregnant 14-year-old from traveling to the U.K. to have an abortion. The Supreme Court eventually overturned a High Court decision to stop the woman, who had been raped. Successive governments have refused to legislate on the basis of that ruling, leaving decisions in the hands of individual doctors.

“We only know about Halappanavar’s death, because her husband went to the press. How many other cases like this have there been?” Ahern said.

“Halappanavar should not have died but it is not necessary to change the law—pro-choice forces are just using this to push their own views,” said Marina Vazhun, an assistant accountant originally from Belarus who was watching the march as it made its way down O’Connell Street.

“Halappanavar should not have had to die for the law to be changed, and it should be,” Ashling Donahue, a 19-year-old shop worker, who was also watching the action, told the Militant. “I support abortion in some cases—if a woman’s life is threatened, if she has been raped or is too young to raise a child.”

Doing nothing on this issue “is not an option,” Eamon Gilmore, minister for foreign affairs and trade, told reporters Nov. 16, after talks with the Indian ambassador, according to the Irish Times.

A Nov. 18 article in the Sunday Independent predicted there would be a majority in the Dáil to legalize the 1992 Supreme Court ruling on the X case, even if such legislation didn’t include a clause ruling out abortion on demand.

“There has been a change in attitudes over generations on this question,” Mooney told the Militant at the march. “My mother is religious and she is pro-choice and she would not have got that from her background growing up in a rural area.”

Pamela Holmes and Hugo Wils contributed to this article.  
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