On October 28, 2012, the devastating death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway led to a nationwide protest in Ireland and a revaluation of women’s reproductive rights in Ireland. Savita was a 31-year-old dentist, who had been starting a planned family with her husband. She was in horrific pain and went to the hospital where doctors determined that she was miscarrying. However, over the course of three days the doctors refused the couple’s multiple requests for a termination of her pregnancy since the 17-week-old fetus still had a heartbeat. Savita died after being denied a life-saving termination procedure. If she had resided in the U.S., where the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling has allowed for safe and legal abortions for four decades, she likely would be alive and healthy today.
According to a World Health Organization report, about 47,000 women die annually around the world from unsafe abortions. Worldwide, many women are unable to make their own personal health decisions. Most of these women live in developing countries, where legal restrictions and lack of access to modern medicine drive women to seek unsafe procedures. It is not that Irish women do not seek abortions. They do. They just have to get on a plane and fly to England to claim their reproductive health. The women who suffer most are those who can’t get on that plane — economically disadvantaged women lacking resources or women, like Savita, who suddenly find themselves with severe health complications and cannot travel the necessary distance to gain access to abortions and reproductive health. It is time for change in Ireland.
My time in Ireland has been filled with lessons, the most meaningful one being about the importance of policy and advocacy. While equality can be achieved in all sorts of ways, I used to think that the only way to create meaningful change was to get involved on the ground and do something such as volunteering. This is probably one of the main reasons I’ve been drawn to the idea of being a physician, where every day I can have some sort of direct and meaningful impact on someone’s life. In Ireland, I’ve learned about inequality both in the classroom at University College Dublin’s School of Social Justice and in the midst of thousands of protesters holding candles at Savita’s vigil.
As I’ve repeatedly marched from the Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance to the Dáil, I’ve witnessed a change in the making — both in Ireland and in myself. Often during these marches, my classmates and professors from my master’s program have surrounded me. And this has reinforced what an incredible opportunity it is to study inequality with brilliant academics who take part in advocacy every day. My professors are truly inspiring. I hope to one day be a physician who not just practices medicine but advocates on behalf of all patients everywhere, whether it be through public policy or by marching in a protest.