There is an extraordinary procession of women coming to pay their personal tributes to Savita Halappanavar in Ireland as the abortion referendum has won a loud “Yes” to legalize abortion. Importantly, in every respect abortion cannot now be accepted and the Irish Constitution under the Eighth Amendment guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.
Then, why did women choose this path of overturning abortion ban? Why have women won today in Ireland? Has the dignity of both women and their unborn children been removed from the Irish Constitution? Can we as persons of integrity remain indifferent at this “Quiet Revolution” as the prime minister of Ireland hailed? To break the armour, we need to go back to the story of Ms Savita Halappanvar.
The story of Ms Halappanavar was in the mainstream media in 2012 when she died on October 28, 2012, at Galway University Hospital, one week after she presented with back pain and was found to be miscarrying her 17th-week pregnancy. Although the pregnancy was not viable, her requests for termination were refused because there was a foetal heartbeat. She contracted sepsis and died of multi-organ failure and septic shock.
The enquiry concluded that Ms Halappanavar died because the consultant treating her had been concerned about the legal issues throughout her considerations as to whether to terminate the pregnancy. The enquiry also concluded that making abortion illegal serves only to promote illegal abortions. It said, “those women with influence and financial resources will get it performed in a safe environment. Those who are poor with less influence will resort to unsafe methods.”
This so-called “Quiet Revolution” has opened a whole new chapter in human history. Where do we go from here? Is there a way forward? There is a dichotomy at play as regards to abortion and this dichotomy will lead to disasters or life. The state, the church, leaders of various faiths, medical practitioners and human rights must come to the table to address these few significant questions and not remain indifferent. It does not affect us directly, it will affect us as humans. Every individual must be abortion-minded so that there is mature and reasonable dialogue. It is in dialogue we can arrive at a consensus and no decision. The decision lies on the premise that ‘God creates life through parents and every created life has its rights as human person.’
Ireland has taken a path of decision. We prayed for Ireland to not lift the abortion ban, but the referendum has lifted the abortion ban hence abortion will be legal in Ireland. The Irish leadership now has the duty and commitment to safeguard the sanctity of the womb by enshrining bylaws for abortion with reasonable consideration to human life. Will other nations join this quiet revolution? We must wait and watch what our women have to say about it. Although it concerns everyone, it has direct physical, psychological and spiritual impact and consequence on women.
Jerri Melwin Dias SJ