Why does no one care about the right to choose?

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 16, 2012 05:06 hrs

On Thursday, India woke up to the news that a 31-year-old dentist, Savita Halappanavar, had passed away in Ireland, because she was denied an abortion that could have saved her life. On Thursday, most of India went to bed, clicking tongues in distant pity, satisfied that if the woman had been in India, her life would have been saved.

It’s the ultimate validation of our choice to stay on in India – a tragedy involving an NRI – and television channels went on to milk it shamelessly, throwing points and scenarios at viewers. Like, Savita wasn’t Irish or Catholic, so why was she bound by the laws of Catholic Ireland? Like, if only she had been miscarrying in India, she could have had the abortion and avoided septicaemia, which was eventually found to be the cause of her death. Like, are stronger currencies and European standards of life worth leaving India for, when one’s life has less value in those countries?

One channel went on its regular jingoistic rant about India versus the world. Another channel brought in an Indian Catholic priest to weigh the issue of abortion against the life of a mother, and thrust its cameras and microphones on a family that was numbed by the tragedy.

Meanwhile, the actual issue is lost in a chorus of outrage against the abortion laws of Ireland. While the Constitution of Ireland officially bans abortion, a 1992 ruling by the country’s Supreme Court allowed the procedure to be legalised for situations when the woman’s life is at risk unless the pregnancy is terminated.

Though Irish governments haven’t passed a law to resolve the confusion, it appears fairly clear that abortions are allowed when the life of the mother is in danger. In the case of Savita, it is clear that she was miscarrying. And she seems to have been within her rights in demanding an abortion. Why did the hospital refuse to conduct the procedure, then?

Nothing will bring back Savita Halappanavar, but medical negligence is a serious offence across the world. And if the right questions are asked, there is a chance other people may not have to go through the same.
Our breathless media chose, instead, to showcase the tragedy of a woman’s death, and scream about denial of human rights.

Yes, it is terrible that, in 2012, in a developed country that is part of the European Union, a woman died because doctors refused to let her abort. But Ireland is not the only country in which abortions are illegal.

And it isn’t the only country in which religious groups are agitating for abortions to remain, or to be deemed, illegal. And it isn’t the only country in which politicians have caved, keeping vote banks in mind.

For decades, women across the world have been going to quacks or trying risky home treatments to terminate pregnancies. In many countries today, they continue to do so.

Just three months ago, a pregnant teenager in the Dominican Republic died from cancer-related complications, because she was denied chemotherapy, as abortions are banned in the country. The girl was 13 weeks pregnant.

As our omniscient news anchors thumped their tables, did any of them care about the real issue? And did anyone remember the Niketa Mehta case from 2008? Niketa and Haresh Mehta had approached the Bombay High Court when they came to know their foetus was diagnosed with a congenital heart blockage. Niketa was in the 24th week of her pregnancy, and abortion was banned. The High Court ruled against medical termination, and by the time the ruling came through, she was in the 27th week of her pregnancy.

If she hadn’t miscarried, the couple would have had to raise a child that would never be normal, a child that had already been handed a death sentence before he was born.

When Niketa did miscarry, our channels rushed with their cameras to her husband and mother, with eager journalists wanting to know whether it was a natural miscarriage, or an induced one. Activists can’t be callous now, can they?

It remains that in the twenty-first century, most of the world is tied up by complicated laws that govern abortions. It remains that in a century where women conduct Slutwalks to assert their right to wear skimpy clothes in public, many, many countries don’t allow women the right to choose. This isn’t about India and Ireland, or even about developing and developed countries. This isn’t about religion or nationality. It’s about laws overriding logic, and no one seems to care.

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The author is a writer based in Chennai.

She blogs at

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