In a refreshing and landmark development, lawmakers in the Republic of Ireland have voted to legalise abortion under certain conditions for the first time. This is a watershed moment in the history of the largely Catholic country, which has moved to bring in the bill and get it approved by a 127-31 vote in the lower house (Dail), in effect legalising a pregnancy termination when the woman’s/mother’s life is in danger. The vote comes in the wake of the unfortunate and regrettable death of the NRI dentist Savitha Halappanavar, who died of septicemia when the doctors in Galway refused to terminate her pregnancy even after the foetal malfunction in her uterus, saying the embryo was not completely dead to merit an abortion. Savitha’s death triggered a maelstrom of rallies and protest movements across the country and sent shock waves through its largely apathetic legislature, that was, until now, under the religious bind that prevented it from bringing a more inclusive abortion law and granting women the basic right to reproductive health and choice vis-à-vis pregnancies and motherhood. Opponents of the bill, however, would like to believe that the new provision, that nevertheless needs the upper house sanction before going on to become a full-fledged law, would encourage unethical practices amongst women, who would resort to abortion not as a last ditch measure, but as a matter of choice.
This is, of course, the point of the reproductive rights activists and feminists across the world, who consider that women must have a say and choice when it comes to pregnancies and motherhood, because they must be physically and mentally ready to house the foetus for nine months and bring up the baby once it’s born. Teenage pregnancies and other unwanted instances of conception have become a blight upon women, increasing the burden on mothers who are barely adolescents themselves on the one hand, and condemning the children thus born to morbid lives of squalor on the other. Moreover, a skewed and regressive abortion law gives precedence to the unborn foetus over and above the fundamental right of the mother to live a life of mental and physical health. Ireland must pass this litmus test and give its women their much-deserved rights.