As Texas and North Carolina move towards sharply restricting abortion access, a country infamous for its own restrictive abortion laws is inching towards liberalization. Last week, Irish lawmakers passed a bill that would allow abortions to be performed to save a woman’s life. This vote moves the government closer to following a 1992 Supreme Court decision, which found that abortion should be legal if doctors feel it is necessary to protect a woman’s health, including if she threatens to commit suicide; however, six previous governments refused to pass a law in support of this ruling.
Following the death of Savita Halappanavar in October, the Irish government has decided to legalize its abortion laws. The 31-year-old Halappanavar was seventeen weeks pregnant when she was admitted to Galway University Hospital on October 20 with back pains; tests performed at the hospital showed that the pregnancy was not viable. Though Halappanavar repeatedly requested an abortion, she was reportedly told that Ireland “is a Catholic country” and the pregnancy would not be terminated. Four days after Halappanavar was admitted, the fetal heartbeat stopped; however, her condition continued to deteriorate and she died of septicemia three days later.
Currently, abortions in Ireland are allowed only when the woman’s life (distinct from health) is in danger; however, there is no one agreed-upon method for determining when that is the case. The new laws, which, according to the Telegraph, are expected to be “ready by Easter,” would mean that abortion is no longer considered a criminal act. This legislation would also clarify when doctors can terminate a pregnancy when the woman’s life is considered to be at risk, “including by suicide.”
On October 21, a 31-year-old woman went to University Hospital Galway, in Ireland. Savita Halappanavar had back pain and was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child; upon exam, doctors told Savita and her husband, Praveen, that she was experiencing a miscarriage. As the pain continued and her water broke, Savita asked if the pregnancy could be terminated. But, according to her husband, “‘They said unfortunately she can’t because it’s a Catholic country. … Savita said … she is not Catholic, she is Hindu, and why impose the law on her.” The hospital’s response was that, because Ireland is a “Catholic country,” an abortion couldn’t be performed if the fetus still had a heartbeat. Although Savita asked repeatedly that the pregnancy be terminated, her requests were always denied. Several days later, the heartbeat stopped, but Savita’s condition was worsening, and she was moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit. She died on October 28.