Ireland: Thousands march for abortion rights

November 24, 2012

Thousands of people marched through Dublin on November 17 to protest against the death of dentist Savita Halappanavar, who died of blood poisoning after being refused an abortion.

More than 10,000 people gathered for a vigil and march over the death and the country's draconian abortion laws. A minute's silence was held at Merrion Square by the crowd, followed by chants of “never again”.

Irish doctors appear to have judged that leaving Ms Halappanavar for two days with a fully opened cervix did not present any risk of the infection from which she eventually died.

Instead, she was allegedly told that “Ireland is a Catholic country”, implying that abortion was, therefore, out of the question.

Speakers from socialist parties, women's groups and abortion rights activists addressed Saturday's crowd from a flatbed lorry. They decried the fact that two decades had passed without any political decision to define more closely when hospitals could perform abortions.

Sinead Ahern from Choice Ireland said: “We hope the people who loved Savita know how sorry we are for what happened to her.”

About 1000 people staged a rally in Galway, where the Halappavanars settled in 2008. Some placed candles spelling Savita on the pavement in Galway's central Eyre Square.

Irish law on abortion is a rat's nest of contradictions and the Irish government has done little to untangle it.

A 1992 Supreme Court ruling found abortion should be allowed when a continued pregnancy could endanger the woman's life. But successive governments have refused to bring forward any legislation to resolve the contentious issue.

Ben Chacko wrote in the November 22 Morning Star that women's rights activists marched through Belfast the night before in support of “legal and safe” abortion on an international day of action called in response to the death of Halappanavar.

The Belfast rally was called by the Alliance for Choice Belfast and the Belfast Feminist Network and was backed by the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Alliance for Choice's Emma Campbell said that after Halappanavar's death, the group “believed more strongly than ever” that Northern Ireland needed parity with Britain's 1967 Abortion Act.

“Legalising abortion is the only way to get a health system that protects women,” she said.

[Abridged from Morning Star.]

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