5 December 2012
Dear Madam Secretary,
On the occasion of your visit to Ireland this week, as part of which you will deliver an address at Dublin City University on the theme of human rights, we would like to take this opportunity to express our deep concern at what Human Rights Watch last month described as an “urgent gap in women’s human rights” in Ireland. The failure of seven successive Irish governments to legislate for the constitutional right of women in Ireland to have access to safe and legal abortion when their lives are at risk has resulted in ongoing and unacceptable danger for pregnant women in the country. This danger was tragically highlighted last month by the death in an Irish hospital of a young Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar. As Irish citizens, as members of the Irish diaspora in the United States, and as citizens of the US and elsewhere who wish to express solidarity with women in Ireland, we respectfully ask that, as you meet with the Irish government, and as you speak at DCU, you bear in mind this extremely serious gap in Irish law which constitutes a clear violation of basic human rights.
The situation to which we refer is a consequence of the unwillingness of Irish governments to introduce legislation giving force to the Irish Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in the X case, which stated that a woman is entitled to an abortion when a continued pregnancy would pose a real and substantial threat to her life. A 2010 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C case further found Ireland to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to implement procedures which would allow a woman to establish her right to an abortion within Ireland. The Court also noted that the criminal provisions enshrined in the current law, which dates from 1861, constituted a “chilling factor” for women and medical professionals.
Savita Halappanavar died in University Hospital Galway on October 28th, having been admitted whilst suffering a miscarriage one week previously. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, has stated that her request for a termination was refused by hospital staff, with one doctor invoking the reasoning that Ireland was “a Catholic country”. After an agonizing three-day miscarriage, Savita was found to have contracted septicemia and E-Coli, and died three days later.
Savita’s death has provoked a mass outpouring of grief and anger from those who believe that a termination may have saved her life and, more crucially, that the lives of pregnant women in Ireland must be protected by clear legislation for the twenty-year-old X case ruling. Organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as the UN’s Committee Against Torture have stated that there is an urgent need for domestic legislation in line with international human rights principles, including the very clear ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. The government recently informed the Council of Europe that it plans to take a decision on how to implement the judgment of the Court by December 20th, after the Irish Parliament has debated a report by an Expert Group established to examine this issue. We hope that both the debate and the government’s decision will be based on Ireland’s human rights obligations including its obligations on women’s rights, and that it will be followed by swift implementation.
Otherwise, Ireland will continue to be in clear violation of its international obligations on human rights, despite having committed, during its recent successful campaign for membership of the UN Human Rights Council, to the full promotion of such rights in its domestic policy. Deeming this to be a matter of urgent concern both on an Irish and international scale, we would ask, Madam Secretary, that you might consider addressing this very real and present danger to the lives and health of pregnant women during your visit to Ireland this week. The Irish government must take the right decision to protect the rights of women in Ireland, and it should do so without further delay.
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All those who are interested in ensuring that what happened to Savita Halappanavar never happens again to another woman in Ireland, in ensuring that women's rights to life, health and self-determination are respected on this island, are invited to a national open meeting to launch a national pro-choice campaign on December 8th, to be held in Dublin city centre.
We ask that everyone who can, who wants to show their sympathy with Savita's husband, family and friends, to show solidarity with them in their time of grief and loss, light a candle placed in a specially designed candlebag in her name in a window on the 31-day anniversary of her death, Wednesday 28th November.
You can download the candlebag template from http://i.imgur.com/v0r50.jpg - Follow the instructions to print and make the candle bag. Place it in your window on Wednesday 28th November 2012 to commemorate the one month anniversary of Savita Halappanavar’s passing, and send a photo of your window with the general location to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will post it online to show nationwide support.
This commemorative candle bag is a symbol of sympathy and solidarity; sympathy for the unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar and solidarity with her family’s struggle for justice. It marks the one month anniversary of Savita's tragic and unnecessary death; a tradition that is observed in both Ireland and India. This small gesture in memory of Savita might also be a big comfort for women and men in your community who have suffered due to the unwillingness of successive Irish governments to legislate for their care. In times of tragedy, the saddest experience is the feeling of not being able to do anything. Sadly, we cannot do anything for Savita now but together we can make sure it never happens again to anyone else in Ireland.
On Wedneday November 28th at 7pm in Dublin, thousands with gather again in vigil for Savita and in protest of the government at the Dail, to demand legislation. Signing up to this Thunderclap means you will join us whether you can stand with us in person or are somewhere else in the world - please add your voice to this cause.
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TIMELINE: This is the story of one woman’s death in an Irish hospital, based on the account given by her husband and friends
Savita Halappanavar was admitted to Galway University Hospital with back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant. Seven days later she was dead. The hospital has said it cannot comment on individual cases and in relation to Ms Halappanavar, it must await the outcome of official investigations.
It’s a Saturday night, and Savita Halappanavar (31) and her husband Praveen (34) are holding a small get-together at their home in the Roscam area of Galway. It’s both a farewell dinner for her parents who are returning to India soon and an opportunity to announce to friends they are expecting a baby. Savita is 17 weeks pregnant. “Savita was very excited, very happy,” recalls Praveen. “All our close friends came to congratulate us.”
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,
My objective during this visit has been to evaluate the situation of human rights defenders in the country. Defenders are those who promote and defend human rights in a peaceful manner. The following statement contains my preliminary findings and recommendations. I will present my final report at the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in March 2013.
Defenders and activists working on sexual and reproductive health
The situation and challenges faced by those defenders working on sexual and reproductive rights, particularly those providing information to women about abortion has come to my attention during the visit. Ireland has one of the most restrictive laws in Europe regarding the termination of pregnancies whereby abortion is considered a crime in constitutional and criminal law, and where women could be punished with life-term prison sentences. To date, no convictions have been made under the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861.
The 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the case known as “X” case provided guidance on how to interpret the existing constitutional right to abortion under article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. The European Court of Human Rights in 2010 (“ABC” case) has stated that Ireland violated the right to privacy of a woman when not allowing a lawful abortion and requested a more effective procedure regarding requirements to be met to qualify for legal termination of pregnancy. Both decisions are still to be implemented which means that currently no legislation or regulatory framework exists which defines whether or not a woman is entitled to have access to legal abortion. I was assured by high ranking Government officials that the outcome of the Expert Group set up to advice the Government on how to tackle this issue would be made public very shortly. This is particularly pressing given the tragic death of Ms. Savita Halappanavar after doctors allegedly refused a termination of her pregnancy last month.
Moreover, I am concerned at reports and evidence received indicating the existence of a smear campaign and stigmatisation of those advocating for the reproductive rights of women by the part of vested interest groups using printed media.
I write to you as a middle-aged Irishwoman who marched the streets of Dublin back in 1983 to protest the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution, and marched again and again throughout the eighties and nineties as that amendment's sorry consequences unfolded.
I write as a freethinker, who can say with Voltaire, that even if I disapprove of what you say, I will defend your right to say it. I write as a mother of two, now grown, who has penned articles about this question from many perspectives and written a novel about Irish freedom, which centres on an 18-year-old who terminated, as so many have, an Irish pregnancy in Engand.
And I write as one of the offshore Irish, who spoke outside the Irish embassy in London last week to honour the memory of Savita Halappanavar and urge your government to respond appropriately to her death.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has not ruled out a public inquiry into the death of pregnant Indian woman Savita Halappanavar.
Mr Gilmore said the priority was getting to the bottom of the 31-year-old dentist’s death after a miscarriage. “I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Mr Gilmore said.
His comments follow the announcement of a second investigation into her death – a statutory review by the Health Information and Quality Authority. The terms of reference for this inquiry will be published next week.
Minister for Health Dr James Reilly is considering continued requests for an open inquiry. He met Praveen Halappanavar, husband of the late Savita Halappanavar, in Galway for 25-minutes today in the company of his solicitor, Gerard O’Donnell.
Speaking afterwards Mr O’Donnell described their talks as “positive”. The meeting was sought by the Department of Health.
Dáil Sketch: The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste must have been glad of the Brussels bolthole yesterday. It provided a brief respite from the political coalface back home, as the controversy surrounding Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death intensified.
Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore were working to retain as much as possible of the €1.7 billion share of the annual agricultural and rural development spending at the budget talks.
It must have seemed less challenging than what was facing a visibly uncomfortable Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who was taking Opposition Leaders’ Questions on behalf of the beleaguered Government back in the Dáil.
Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher referred to Miriam O’Callaghan’s interview with Praveen Halappanavar on Wednesday night. It was, he said, the “the most moving, emotional testimony that a person could witness”.