The death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar last month in Ireland during the course of a lengthy miscarriage (while she was hospitalized and refused care) has been roundly criticized worldwide as a preventible tragedy as well as a counterpoint to the anti-abortion movement’s insistence that abortions don’t save lives — and protestors numbering in the tens of thousands took to the streets in Dublin and other Irish cities today to demand action.
Ireland (where Savita, an Indian, died) is mired in a religious struggle to modernize abortion laws that are, to say the least, out of step with the rest of Europe. While women who opt to terminate a pregnancy for non-medical reasons can easily, if expensively, travel to England to abort, women in Halappanavar’s position are at risk of dying during pregnancy complications due to frighteningly ambiguous abortion laws in the country.
That Savita’s death occurred under the care of doctors in hospital in a modern, Western country in 2012 is shocking, but even more so is the controversy stirred by her death. And like all ongoing clashes of ideology, the death of Halappanavar has been heavily covered on social media, as marchers and abortion rights opponents argue over what really happened in the days leading up to Savita’s miscarriage-related fatal septicemia.
Critics of Irish law seem to outnumber those who oppose changes, but anti-abortion activists in Ireland and outside have said that the outcry is an attempt to “politicize” the woman’s death, a death they say may not have been directly attributable to the failure of doctors to remove the fetus due to the fact it had a heartbeat.
But that argument has been answered too by protestors, with signs at Irish rallies today reportedly reading “Savita had a heartbeat, too.”
One American feminist responding to the criticism of protestors, tweeting:
To those calling on women not to “politicize” #Savita‘s death: Stop politicizing women’s bodies & killing us and maybe we’ll consider it.
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) November 15, 2012
Protests for Savita Halappanavar are spreading to US shores as well, with at least one planned outside the Irish Embassy in DC.
Of his wife’s death, Savita’s husband Praveen Halappanavar told a local newspaper that he chose to speak out to save other women, with a heartbreaking lament:
“What is the use in being angry? I’ve lost her. I am talking about this because it shouldn’t happen to anyone else.”
It seems, those who protest the death of Savita Halappanavar in Dublin do think that there is some merit in being angry — abortion rights activists in Dublin have predicted for decades that this very circumstance would come to pass, and Savita’s widower has it right. Ireland can change now, but it’s too late for Savita Halappanavar.