Irish Abortion Referendum: The Indian Connection

If the island of forests and myth is the world’s fading dream, the land of magic and wonders is the beat of its heart. And yet the two have been connected by a bizarre turn of history. The forever sleeping Eyre, suffering little brother of England, and never a hot destination for immigrants, has broken its chain of automatic self-containment aimed at sovereignty from England in a move warmly welcomed by the western world and media as one to take its first mature step and take its rightful place among the nations of Europe, and two Indians are at the heart of it.

Catholic values have always ruled in Ireland, countering England’s defiantly protestant pressure, and deep religious values reign beside social revolutionary drafts in Ireland. Yet, in 2015 the country voted overwhelmingly in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage. In May 2018, the country has taken another bold step by legalizing abortion after a two-decade long public campaign spearheaded by the country’s youth.

The death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar had made international headlines in 2012, and has always been on the radar of the media since. Likewise, instead of falling into the depths of oblivion, she lived in the public memory and became an icon for the call for change – fueled by, as media reported it, a sense of guilt in the Irish heart of wrong done by a guest. Doctor Halappanavar, a resident of Galway, had a miscarriage in 2012, and although there was no chance of her child surviving as things were, doctors refused to remove the foetus until its heart stopped in a few days, when it was too late for Ms. Halappanavar who succumbed to septicaemia shortly.

The controversial Eighth amendment(1983) to the Irish constitution had banned the medical termination of pregnancy as long as the foetus had a beating heart, giving equal rights to mother and unborn. In subsequent amendments provisions were made for securing the right of citizens to travel abroad to get an abortion after the infamous X case, where a fourteen year old victim of rape was barred from going to England to get an abortion.

Savita dominated the centre stage after the results were declared on 25th and it was known that Ireland had voted 66.4% in favour of the proposed bill to replace the eighth, which would legalize abortion up to twelve weeks of pregnancy and twenty four weeks in exceptional cases. However, another person of Indian origin has been instrumental in carrying out the political will of the country’s youth. The Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, has been breaking records as an icon since his ascendance, becoming the youngest person, the first person with an Indian ethnicity, and the Ireland’s first and the world’s fourth openly gay Prime Minister to be sworn in. He had lent his full support and voice to the campaign, so much so, that as Guardian reported, a failure of the referendum would mean a probable fall from throne for the prime minister as well. However, his risks seem to have paid dividends and Varadkar has emerged as the clear political winner of the referendum, likely to be seen as a champion of change and youth in very near future. Varadkar has promised that the referendum will be put into written law by the end of this year.

Debate about abortion has historically been rife with emotions and conviction, and Ireland was no different. The country was reportedly bifurcated in a toxic environment. However, the clear emergence of the majority has surprisingly shushed opposing voices. The referendum has also enabled activists and lawmakers to put pressure on Theresa May to ‘do something’ about North Ireland, which remains the only state in the British isles that bans abortion. However, such demands are impractical on two grounds – firstly, May’s Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party, is a vocal advocate against abortion laws reform, and secondly, on the backdrop of Brexit, the Scottish referendum regarding secession, and segregationist sentiments in Wales and other areas, any unnecessary meddling in another assembly’s rightful political matters would be suicide for any English politician, and as DUP made plentifully clear in their statement, short of bringing back the almost defunct North Ireland’s legislative assembly back to life, no such movements can happen in near future.


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