By Ruth Coppinger
2022 will mark the decade anniversary of the tragic, untimely death of Savita Halappanavar. In October 2012 Savita died from sepsis in a Galway hospital after being refused an abortion. It was a personal catastrophe for her family and friends. For the general public, it sparked outrage, igniting a new abortion rights movement and, after a campaign for five years, the agreement to hold a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment.
ROSA is proposing a demonstration to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Savita, both to commemorate her and to restate what we vowed following her death— ‘Never Again’. The issues that flowed from Savita’s death are still pressing. Repeal and the subsequent abortion law has been a seminal achievement, providing over 6,000 women and pregnant people annually with the right to have abortions in our own country.
Restrictions on abortion rights
However, limits in the law and access are leaving people behind. Notably, 375 people had to travel for abortions to England and Wales in 2019, including some with medical diagnoses. Only one in 10 GPs are providing abortion services and, scandalously, only 10 of the 19 maternity hospitals. Some counties have no services at all.
Most worryingly, maintaining abortion as a criminal offence is having a chilling effect on doctors carrying out abortions on health grounds. Under the new law only 24 abortions have been provided each year for risk to life/ health — no change on the previous PLDP Act. Savita’s death was a major impetus for change but there is no guarantee of another Savita not happening.
There has also been the continued abysmal failure of the Irish capitalist establishment to in any way separate church and state in education or health. The debacle of the National Maternity Hospital — where the state will pay the full cost of a hospital on land owned and leased by the church and with one-third of the hospital board representing a religious order — shows that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens are unwilling /unable to stand up to the church.
Epic fail for social progress
The controversy it generated, however, showed that the majority of working and young people want the church to have no say over healthcare and particularly so over the health of women or trans people. This was the first maternity hospital established since repeal and an epic fail for social progress.
Repeal was also meant to be accompanied by sex education and free contraception. This was agreed by all the all party Oireachtas Committee. But despite an epidemic of gender based and homophobic violence, as we’ve seen graphically this year with the murders of Ashling Murphy, Michael Snee and Aidan Moffitt, nothing has been done to provide comprehensive sex education in all schools that is LGBT-inclusive and consent-focused.
Global backlash right wing backlash
We also need to march for international reasons. Rights that were taken for granted can be taken away. Globally there is a pushback against abortion and bodily autonomy, nowhere more so than the US, the richest capitalist country in the world, where the 50-year abortion law, Roe V Wade, is being dismantled and LGBT+ rights are being attacked by an emboldened religious right.
For all these reasons, we should mark Savita’s anniversary. Savita’s family made an active and impassioned intervention into the referendum, calling on the Irish people to vote yes as the best way to honour her memory. Repeal and abortion rights were won through an active movement forcing conservative politicians to concede rights. We should mark Savita’s anniversary with an active demonstration that respectfully remembers her life and demands ‘Never Again’ — that anyone who is pregnant who asks for an abortion can get one in a timely fashion without barriers, that neither priests or politicians decide women’s fate and we want full separation of church and state in Ireland.