In a historic move, Ireland voted “Yes” to overturn the draconian eighth amendment of the 1983 law which gave “equal right to life” for mothers and “the unborn” and made abortions punishable offence. The referendum saw 64.1% voters turnout out of which 66.4% voted yes.
Prime Minister of Ireland Leo Varadkar called it a quiet revolution and a win for democracy.
Death of a 31-year-old Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar is said to have acted as a catalyst in this movement.
Halappanavar died in October 2012 at University Hospital Galway in Ireland of septic miscarriage.
Savita Halappanavar died on October 28, 2012, due to complications of a septic miscarriage at 17 weeks’ gestation. It is reported that in the early stages of the process, it was clear that miscarriage was inevitable. However, when Halappanavar requested for an abortion, she was denied the same since the medical team had not diagnosed her with a blood infection and did not judge that her life was in danger.
It is reported that Halappanavar and her husband’s repeated request for abortion fell on deaf ears.
Eventually, when the team diagnosed the sepsis and began treating it, they found that Halappanavar’s life was in danger. They resorted to inducing delivery but the miscarriage happened before the process was completed. The sepsis continued developing and she died of cardiac arrest.
Further investigation into the cause of her death revealed medical misadventure. The hospital was criticised for poor detection and management of maternal sepsis, the poor keeping of records and poor system to handle the whole situation.
Savita’s death gave momentum to the movement against the restrictive abortion laws in the country.
Abortion laws in Ireland for the longest time were considered to be the most restrictive in Europe. This issue has been the subject of six referendums in the last 35 years.
The referendum of May 25 which awaits President of Ireland’s nod after which it will become a law.
Before this, under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, abortion had been prohibited in Ireland which stayed even after independence in 1922, which said, “procuring a miscarriage was a criminal offence subject to the penal servitude for life”.
In 1983, the eighth amendment was added by inserting a subsection which recognised equal right to life for both the mother and the unborn child. This amendment ensured that abortion would be allowed only of the mother’s life was at risk. The eighth amendment in the 1983 law deemed abortion as an offence only with the exception in cases of a risk to the life of the woman, including a risk of suicide. This outlawed all the cases of abortion – including those of rapes, incest and fatal fetal complications.
As per reports, thousands of Irish women travel to the UK every year for abortions or sourced abortion pills.