“Savita would not have died if the laws in Ireland were different”

In 2012, a young Indian woman died in Ireland after being refused an abortion - because it wasn’t allowed under the laws of the country.

Savita Halappanavar’s death touched a nerve with young people, and a new generation of activists was born. Here, Hamsa, a campaigner and equality and diversity officer at Queen’s University Belfast Student Union, tells why she felt she had to take action after Savita died.

I think Savita specifically has been quite a powerful name for me and a powerful thing for me to remember throughout all of my activism.

The catalyst for change: “Savita died of sepsis.”

Savita went to hospital feeling unwell because she was having a miscarriage. “When she asked for an abortion she was told ‘this is a Catholic country and we don't do this’.”

Despite the miscarriage being inevitable, medical professionals said they could not terminate the pregnancy because the baby’s heart was still beating. Under Irish law at the time, abortion was illegal unless it was needed to protect a woman’s life. Savita’s life was not yet seen to be at risk.

Savita would not have died if the laws in Ireland were different.

An investigation into Savita’s death recommended changes to the law.

Hamsa decided to help campaign for a change to the laws around abortion in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. She became involved in vigils in memory of Savita.

Hamsa also wanted to make sure that the conversation included people from different backgrounds, including those who were not born in Ireland, like Savita.

I've always centered my activism around making sure that the voice of minorities and some of the most vulnerable groups in society is platformed.

Progress

After a prolonged campaign, in May 2018, the people of Ireland voted to repeal a law which would pave the way for legalising abortion in the country. In October 2019, abortion in Northern Ireland was decriminalised.

We made a promise of ‘Never again’ when Savita died, and that promise is now a reality... with decriminalised abortion in the north and we repealed the eighth amendment in the south.

For Hamsa, the fight isn’t over yet. “The protest movement has been very clear here... We want free, safe, legal and local access to abortion and until we achieve that for all people across Ireland this movement has not really won.

No one is going to be left behind anymore and the shame, guilt and fear that so many women have been put through, so many pregnant people, will be ending here today.”

She says of Savita: “We will remember. Her death will not be in vain.

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