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Abortion in Ireland: The Injustice and Day-to-Day Terror Faced by Countless Women

Ireland's abortion policies cause widespread misery.

Written by Sarah Fisher for RH Reality Check.

See all our coverage of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar here.

As an organisation that hears first-hand from the women who bear the burden of Ireland’s archaic abortion laws, the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar was shocking and sickening.

And yet not as surprising as you’d think.

Given that abortion laws in Ireland are among the strictest in the world, a tragedy of this kind wasn’t so much a matter of if, but when. The circumstances in which Savita died are truly abhorrent. Admitted to hospital experiencing a miscarriage at 17 weeks, despite being told that the fetus “wasn’t viable” she was made to suffer for days, left begging for an abortion that she was refused as long as there was a foetal heart beat.

Haunted by the harrowing details of Savita’s death we’re left to wonder how many more women in Ireland may have lost their lives as a result of being denied a life-saving abortion.

If Savita’s family hadn’t bravely made the decision to go public, would her senseless death have come to light? Have the lives of more women been sacrificed because a fetus was deemed more important? Even when it was known that the fetus would not survive? When, technically in Ireland an abortion is permitted if there is a “real and substantial risk to the life of the mother?” These are questions that we cannot ignore and questions that demand answers.

Savita’s death is the worst illustration of what happens when abortion is highly restricted, and the worst way for the ‘pro-life’ lobby to be proved wrong. How often do we hear that abortion is never necessary to save the life of a woman? A protester at a vigil for Savita hit the nail on the head with a placard stating ‘Pro-Life beliefs killed Savita Halappanavar — Ireland needs abortion rights.’ So did Kartha Pollit in her compelling reflection on the case When ‘Pro-Life’ kills.

But what has been absent from the mainstream media coverage of Savita’s death has been the mass, day-in day-out misery and discrimination experienced by women as a result of the near-total ban on abortion in Ireland.

Because for every tragic death like Savita’s there are many, many more victims of Ireland’s abortion laws who, though they don’t pay with their lives, are made to endure hardship, shame and violations of their basic rights. It’s also important that their plight isn’t ignored.

At Abortion Support Network we’re all too aware of this, because these women or their friends or their partners call us on a daily basis, desperate and often with no place else to turn. We’re a small, all-volunteer organisation based in London and our sole purpose is to help as many of the 5000+ women in Ireland and also Northern Ireland who each year are forced to travel to England simply to access a safe and legal abortion. Or to put it another way, to get a common medical procedure that they should be able to have in their own country. [cont’d.]

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