Press Ireland to junk its heartless abortion law - The New Indian Express

Press Ireland to junk its heartless abortion law

Published: 19th November 2012 12:00 AM

Last Updated: 19th November 2012 12:07 AM

However tragic the death of Savita Halappanavar at a hospital in Ireland might have been, it would have served some purpose if it had prompted the ‘Catholic’ country to review its heartless anti-abortion policy. The 31-year-old Indian dentist would not have died if the doctors at the University Hospital, Galway, had terminated her pregnancy to save her life. An antiquated law that banned abortion under any circumstances prevented them from saving her life. In the process, they could not prevent the death of either the foetus or the mother. It is easy to blame the doctors but the real villain of the piece is the anti-abortion policy Ireland has been following.

What had made the law worse is a 1983 amendment under which the life of a foetus was equated with the life of its mother. There have been cases like the victim of a rape, who was prevented from terminating her pregnancy not only in Ireland but also in England. When she sued the Irish state, the court ruled in 1992 that if ‘there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health of the mother, which can only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, such termination is permissible’. This liberal interpretation would have benefited Halappanavar because it was not her health but life which was at stake.

Alas, the court’s ruling was not incorporated in the law so much so that the doctors went by the obscurantist law pushing her to the jaws of death. Of course, allowance has to be made for the fact that doctors in Ireland risk criminal prosecution if it is proved that the foetus could have been saved without risking the life of the mother. Though there is no popular support for such a harsh law, what prevents the government from liberalising the law is the fear of backlash from the powerful Catholic Church. Now that women’s rights over procreation have got a human face in Halappanavar, India should do everything possible to let Ireland know that life is more precious than misplaced faith.

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