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Irish Abortion Debate Further Ignites Tensions Over Women’s Rights

A recent controversial death in Ireland has sparked worldwide debate regarding abortion. Savita Halappanavar, a young woman suffering from a potentially life-threatening miscarriage, was denied a life-saving abortion due to Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. According to reports by Mr. Halappanavar, Savita was told told that an abortion could not be performed because “Ireland is a Catholic country”. The couple had also been informed that the fetus had no chance of survival, but that an abortion could not take place until the fetal heartbeat had disappeared.  Oddly, Ireland’s constitution itself states that abortion is legal, even if there is a fetal heartbeat, if there is a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the woman. This condition was clearly present in this case, as Ms. Halappanavar was pronounced dead only a week later. The fetus was eventually removed, but by then it was too late, causing Ms. Halappanavar to die from sepsis (infection of the blood). The problematic wording of the constitution’s requirement of “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life clearly allows a great deal of subjectivity and discretionary action on the part of the physician. During the official inquest, hospital physicians have stated that there was nothing that could have been done to save the young woman because there was no substantive risk to her life until a few hours before her death. However, leading Irish obstetrician Dr. Peter Boylan admits that Ms. Halappanavar most likely would have survived had the abortion taken place a day or two before she became ill. It’s understandable why women around the world are outraged about the blatant violations of Halappanavar’s rights- violations that also occur in many countries around the world. How long are we going to allow women to have their health rights violated before a change is made? These unacceptable violations do not occur only in Ireland, but throughout the world, particularly in developing nations. That’s why Global Justice Center’s August 12th campaign is so adamant about bringing justice to women around the world who are being denied their rightful access to abortions. Whether in a conflict zone or a peaceful area, women’s lives should never be put at risk because of a practitioner’s religious or social beliefs. Every woman is entitled to life, and not allowing a woman to have an abortion takes away her fundamental right to live and make decisions for her own health. The denial of abortion rights to women is unjust, and in Ms. Halappanavar’s case, unlawful, and women worldwide must take action to ensure that this is put to an end.